The outward signs of Heart Attack may be different for each person. Some may be mild and develop slowly over a couple of hours, while others may be sudden and intense.
Whether the person recovers or not, even a mild heart attack is a big deal – cardiac issues are potentially life threatening and need immediate medical treatment.
So let’s have a look at some of the common “soft signs” of heart attack and how to provide first aid for anyone showing them.
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack – also known as a myocardial infarction (MI) – is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the blood vessels that allow the heart to function become blocked, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the heart itself.
About 430,000 Australians will experience a heart attack at some point in their life. Around 57,000 people suffer from this condition every year in Australia – which works out to about one person every 10 minutes, on average.
‘Myocardial’ is a medical term referring to the muscles of the heart (‘myo’ means muscles, while ‘cardial’ refers to the heart). “Infarction” is a term describing the death of muscle tissue due to a lack of blood. So the term ‘myocardial infarction’ literally describes death of the heart muscles due to poor blood supply – not something you want to ignore!
Unfortunately, the symptoms of a heart attack are not always obvious. The danger of only experiencing soft signs is that many people don’t realize they’re suffering from heart problems. With no obvious symptoms (such as chest pains) it’s not unheard of for people to not realise they’ve suffered a heart attack at all.
While a stabbing pain in the chest is the best known symptom of a heart attack, there are also many less dramatic, ‘soft’ symptoms that can show themselves. While many of these are common symptoms that can indicate a variety of conditions, seeing a number of them together can be a vital warning sign that medical attention is needed.
Signs and Symptoms
Many ‘silent’ symptoms can serve as warning signs, even if they are relatively mild and don’t last long.
Individual symptoms aren’t generally a clear indicator, but the more of these symptoms you have, the higher the chances that you may be suffering a heart attack.
The majority of heart attack cases do involve pain in the left centre of the chest – which can be severe, but might also be fairly mild. This may be experienced as tightness in the chest, fullness, heavy pressure, or the feeling of someone crushing or squeezing in that area.
The chest pain usually lasts for a couple of minutes, and it tends to come and go in waves. Physical exertion can worsen these symptoms, and rest can ease them.
Upper Body Discomfort
Another soft sign is pain or discomfort in the upper parts of the body. These include the arms, jaw, neck, back, in between shoulders, and the stomach and belly button.
In some cases, the pain may start in the chest and then slowly spread to other upper body areas.
Shortness of Breath
The person may experience respiratory troubles, or breathlessness. Shortness of breath is one of the more common warning signs of a heart attack. It can happen before or along with chest pain and upper body discomfort..
A person with a heart attack may feel unusually tired or fatigued. Many mistake this for fatigue related to flu or strenuous work, and don’t realise it’s related to blockages in the coronary arteries.
A sensation similar to heartburn or indigestion is another common symptom – generally accompanied by other symptoms.
This sensation isn’t actually related to digestion at all, and can occur with no food in the person’s system. If you suffer heartburn or indigestion without having eaten much – especially if it comes on suddenly – this may be an indication of a heart attack, and you should be on on the lookout for other signs.
While a cold sweat, nausea, or feeling light-headed can be associated with many conditions, they can also be an early warning of silent heart attack. It’s worth being on the lookout for other symptoms if you find yourself suffering from them.
First Aid for Heart Attack
If enough symptoms are present that you believe the person is suffering a heart attack, you should seek medical assistance at once. Here is the first aid guide to follow in a heart attack emergency.
- Call Triple Zero (000)
Call emergency services and ask for further assistance. The emergency personnel can begin treatment while on the way to the hospital.
- Stop all activity
Put an immediate stop to whatever the person is doing. Have the person sit, lie down, or be in the most comfortable position.
- Take medication
If the person has known cardiac problems, they may have heart medication close to hand – such as medical nitroglycerine, which opens up the blood vessels and reduces the load on the heart. Make sure recommended dosage is closely adhered to.
(If you have a history of heart trouble, it’s an excellent idea to keep information about your condition and any medications on you – in your wallet, purse or phone-case. Emergency services will need this information to provide the best treatment.)
If prescription heart medication is unavailable, Aspirin might provide some relief – provided the person is not allergic or intolerant. Have the person chew and swallow the medicine.
- Rest and wait
Stay calm and monitor the person’s condition while waiting for help to arrive. Look out for worsening symptoms.
Many heart attack victims die even before reaching the emergency room.
The sooner you recognize the soft signs of heart attack, the better the chance of survival. Prompt first aid treatment can reduce long term damage to the heart, and improve your prognosis (short and long term).
It is vital to understand these signs – and to manage the risk factors contributing to poor heart health. Even a mild heart attack is a critical incident requiring urgent first aid, and prompt medical assistance. And no matter your situation, learning first aid will allow you to effectively recognise and respond a potential heart attack, providing potentially life-saving emergency assistance to those around you.