When it comes to a heart attack, fast action is critical.
“Time is muscle,” said Dr. Ravishankar Kalaga, a cardiologist at Great Plains Health. “Which means, the faster you go to the emergency room to get help, the more cardiac muscle you will save.”
Unfortunately, many people misread heart attack symptoms. The most common sign is a tightness or pain in the chest, but Kalaga said many patients have told him they just thought it was heartburn. Ignoring the pain for hours or trying to treat it with antacids can be a costly mistake.
Symptoms can include shortness of breath, dizziness, pain in the neck and jaw, or nausea and vomiting. However, they can be misleading sometimes, Kalaga said. Not every patient will experience all of these symptoms. Some people may show almost no signs, while others will go into a state similar to shock.
The most significant differences are between men and women. Unlike men, women often don’t show signs, so symptoms such as vomiting can lead them to believe it’s not heart related. The subject has become its own field of study — women’s cardiology.
Heart attacks are happening in younger patients recently, Kalaga said.
“The majority of attacks used to be in the population of 65 and older, but now younger people are coming in,” he said. “You could see a man now about 45 and say, ‘He’s too young to have a heart attack.’ Not anymore.”
Kalaga’s advice is to be aware. Know the symptoms, and if you are experiencing something unusual, seek medical help as soon as possible. Lots of people don’t recognize the symptoms when they’re having them, Kalaga said.
“The community in general should develop an awareness of any symptom that could potentially be a heart attack,” he said.