Myocardial infarction, or heart attack, is one of the more well-known cardiovascular events a person may face. But, between pop culture depictions and general misinformation, patients aren’t always as well-informed of heart attack symptoms and risk factors as they might imagine. And yet, knowing the warning signs of a massive heart attack can be the difference between life and death in a cardiovascular crisis.
Lightheadedness or dizziness is a common symptom of heart attacks in both men and women (though it’s a particularly common symptom for women or AFAB individuals experiencing a heart attack). Dizziness might be caused by other health conditions, like dehydration, low blood pressure or blood sugar, or even a side effect of certain medications. However, more serious instances of dizziness, especially with some of these other common symptoms, may indicate a heart attack or stroke.
Nausea is another symptom of a heart attack that’s more common for women, though it occurs in patients of all gender identities. If you’re dealing with an upset stomach, indigestion, or related gastrointestinal distress, you may very well have eaten something that didn’t agree with you, or you might have caught the stomach bug that’s been going around. But, if you’re prone to heart disease or other cardiovascular issues, it may be worth seeking medical advice when facing these symptoms.
3. Shortness of Breath
Your heart’s ability to pump blood is closely related to your breathing, so it’s no surprise that shortness of breath is a symptom of heart attack and related conditions. Often, this symptom appears in women, where it's accompanied by unexplained fatigue or exhaustion. Put simply, a heart problem can force your heart to work harder to pump blood, leading to symptoms like exhaustion and shortness of breath, as well as issues like high blood pressure, chest pain, and irregular heart rate or arrhythmias.
4. Cold Sweat
If you’re sweating more profusely or more often than usual, especially when you aren’t exerting yourself, you may be experiencing an early warning sign of heart problems like a heart attack. Like other common symptoms, this can easily be misconstrued as something less serious—women might ignore night sweats, assuming they’re a symptom of menopause, for instance. If you’re sweating excessively, facing sleeplessness as a result of your sweating, or breaking out in a cold sweat, you may be dealing with this common heart attack symptom.
5. Chest Pain or Discomfort
While not all heart attacks result in chest discomfort or pain, a vast majority do. Conversely, though, angina or discomfort can easily be unrelated, with issues like nerve problems, pulled muscles, or stress leading to pain and discomfort. If you suspect your chest pain is something serious, contact a health care provider for treatment and further guidance.
Many common symptoms of a heart attack can indicate other conditions, but if you’re at higher risk of heart disease due to your family history or other risk factors, it’s worth seeking medical services when you suspect a heart attack or similar cardiovascular problem may be at play.