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Sure Signs You're Having a Heart Attack, Says MD

Experts explain the signs of a heart attack to watch out for and who is at risk.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Nobody thinks they're going to have a heart attack, but every 40 seconds someone in the United States does. "Every year, about 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Of these, 605,000 are a first heart attack. 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack. About 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. Recognizing the early warning signs could save your life and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explain heart attack symptoms to watch out for and how to help prevent one. As always, please consult your physician for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why are Heart Attacks so Common?

Man having chest pain - heart attack, outdoors

Dr. Rahul Aggarwal, Interventional cardiologist, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center part of the Palm Beach Health Network tells us, "Heart attacks are so common nowadays because of our sedentary lifestyle. However, cases have improved a bit because of the reduction in people smoking. We're living longer so that causes more wear and tear on the body so population growth is also a factor."


Who is at Risk for a Heart Attack and Why?

man has a dizzy spell or a heart attack. Woman comes to the rescue

Dr. Aggarwal explains, "Those who are overweight and have a poor diet are at most risk for a heart attack. Genetics also can play a role. If you can recognize the factors, you can reduce your risk of a heart attack. It's important to control the things you can to reduce inflammation."


What Should People Know About Heart Disease?

Asian Businessman standing near the window and having chest pain.

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital explains, "Heart disease can affect any age. It is often used to describe different types of diseases that prevent the heart from functioning. The most common type is called coronary artery disease, a condition that decreases oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart. Which increases your risks for having a myocardial infarction often referred to as a heart attack."


Warning Signs Before a Heart Attack

Mature Man Clutching Arm As Warning Of Heart Attack

According to Dr. Curry-Winchell, "The most common are pain in the chest, upper back and neck, indigestion (belching or heartburn) nausea and vomiting and difficulty breathing. Not everyone will experience one or all these symptoms. Heart disease is often referred to as a "silent" disease."  


How Heart Attacks Can Turn Deadly, While Others are so Mild People Don't Know They've Had One

drinking alcohol

Dr. Curry-Winchell reveals, "Your overall risk factors can make a difference between a mild or lethal heart attack. There are several risks such as a diagnosis of hypertension, elevated cholesterol (dyslipidemia), diabetes and family history of heart disease. If you are a smoker, consume alcohol above moderate consumption and participate in a sedentary lifestyle meaning little to no daily exercise this can increase your risks of dying from a heart attack."


How Important are Regular Check Ups?

woman consulting with female doctor

According to Dr. Aggarwal, "Regular doctor appointments are important for someone who's at risk of heart disease and for anyone over the age of 50. You should see a cardiologist at least once a year. If you're diabetic, you should see one even more regularly. You can see your risks and assess your health with your doctor. It's like a report card for your health. It also gives the patient motivation to live healthier."


Chest, Upper Back, Neck or Jaw Pain

Woman touching her heart while sitting at the table in her big office.

Dr. Curry-Winchell states, 'My chest feels tight' I feel pressure or a heavy sensation as if someone is sitting on my chest" My jaw hurts or it feels sore" are common phrases I hear from my patients having a heart attack. The onset is typically sudden and can be associated with pain in the center or left side of the chest or that moves to the back, arm or jaw."



Young woman suffers, writhes in abdominal pain lying on couch in living room at home interior

Dr. Curry-Winchell says, "The uncomfortable feeling of a meal that you keep feeling or taste through belching can be the sign of a heart attack. So how do you tell the difference? Heartburn will typically start shortly after a meal and start in the upper part of the stomach and move to your throat. However, not everyone experiences the similar symptoms therefore it's important to get checked out."


Shortness of Breath

Sick woman feeling chest pain and wearing face mask in a lobby at medical clinic.

According to Dr. Curry-Winchell, "Feeling winded or unable to catch your breath is a common symptom. Because the heart is receiving less blood there is less oxygen available causing you to feel short of breath."  


Fatigue, Dizziness, or Lightheadedness


Vertigo illness concept. Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.

Dr. Curry-Winchell explains, " People experiencing  angina (chest pain) often report exhaustion and feeling lightheaded or dizzy. This is caused by your heart working overtime-pumping blood to areas in the heart that are blocked which ultimately reduces the amount of blood available for your brain."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather