Heart Attack Symptoms and Early Warning Signs
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD
Heart attack is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. Each year, about 1.1 million Americans suffer a heart attack, and 460,000 of these are fatal. Most of the deaths from heart attacks are caused by ventricular fibrillation of the heart that occurs before the victim of the heart attack can reach an emergency room. Those who reach the emergency room have an excellent prognosis; survival from a heart attack with modern treatment should exceed 90%. The 1% to 10% of heart attack victims who die later include those victims who suffer major damage to the heart muscleinitially or who suffer additional damage at a later time. Fortunately, procedures such as coronary angiogramand PTCA (coronary balloon angioplasty), and clot dissolving drugs are available that can quickly open blocked arteries in order to restore circulation to the heart and limit heart muscle damage. In order to optimally benefit heart attack victims and limit the extent of heart damage, these treatments to open blocked arteries should be given early during a heart attack.
Knowing the early warning signs of heart attack is critical for prompt recognition and treatment. Many heart attacks start slowly, unlike the dramatic portrayal often seen in the movies. A person experiencing a heart attack may not even be sure of what is happening. Heart attack symptoms vary among individuals, and even a person who has had a previous heart attack may have different symptoms in a subsequent heart attack. Although chest painor pressure is the most common symptom of a heart attack, heart attack victims may experience a diversity of symptoms that include:
- Pain, fullness, and/or squeezing sensation of the chest
- Jaw pain, toothache, headache