Mawi’s Andrew Klymenko discusses silent heart attacks
Recognising the early warning signs of a heart attack can potentially save lives.
This life-threatening condition occurs when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, often by a blood clot.
Insufficient blood flow to the heart can cause severe damage to the heart muscle and requires immediate treatment.
According to data from the British Heart Foundation, one person is admitted to a UK hospital every five minutes due to a heart attack.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks, with over 86,500 people being admitted to hospitals across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland between April 2019 and March 2020.
While symptoms may vary from person to person, there are 11 early warning signs of a heart attack that everyone should be aware of.
Recognising these signs in advance allows for necessary tests and preventive measures, as advised by the British Heart Foundation.
Experiencing a gripping or cramping sensation in the calves while walking could indicate peripheral arterial disease (PAD), particularly common in smokers and individuals with diabetes.
David Newby, Professor of Cardiology at the BHF Centre of Research Excellence advises seeing a doctor if you experience this.
Pain radiating down the left arm or into the neck can be a sign of a heart attack.
If the pain persists or if you have pre-existing heart disease and your medication has not provided relief, seek emergency medical advice by calling 999.
Professor Newby said: “If your pain is going down the arm, especially the left arm, or into the neck that makes it more likely to be heart-related than indigestion.
“If it doesn’t go away, or if you know you have heart disease and have used your GTN (glyceryl trinitrate) spray two or three times to no discernible effect, you should be seeking emergency medical advice.”
While swollen ankles can have various causes, they should not be ignored, as they may indicate heart failure. Professor Newby says: “This shouldn’t be ignored, especially if the ankles get really big, as it can be a marker of heart failure, but it is also very common and has lots of other causes. It could just as easily be from tablets you are taking – for example, blood pressure medication can lead to swollen ankles.” Consult your GP if you experience persistent ankle swelling.
Stomach pain or indigestion
Chest or stomach pain resembling indigestion could be a sign of a heart attack or related cardiac issues. Distinguishing between heart-related pain and indigestion can be challenging, so it’s crucial to seek medical attention if you’re uncertain.
While not every episode of nausea indicates a heart attack, experiencing chest pain alongside nausea should raise concerns. Professor Newby said: “If you experience intense chest pain even when you are just sitting around doing nothing and you are also feeling sick, that is the time to call for an ambulance.”
If you have intense chest pain and feel nauseous, call for an ambulance. For mild discomfort accompanied by nausea, seek advice from NHS 111.
Sweating excessively during physical exertion or hot weather is normal. However, if you experience night sweats alongside chest pains, it could be a warning sign, and you should call for an ambulance.
Jaw or back pain
It’s not uncommon for heart attack symptoms to manifest as pain in the jaw or back. If the pain persists, dial 999 and request an ambulance. Professor Newby said: “With heart attacks, it can even happen that the pain is felt in the jaw, or the back. Again, if it doesn’t go away, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.” Women may experience symptoms that differ from the classic chest pain associated with heart attacks, making it crucial to seek medical attention.
The term “angina” means “choking,” and tightness or pain in the throat can be indicative of this condition. If the sensation persists and you haven’t been previously diagnosed with a heart problem, contact NHS 111. If other signs are present, calling an ambulance might be safer.
While fatigue can result from various conditions, persistent extreme tiredness could be a symptom of heart failure or other underlying issues. If your tiredness is unexplained and severe, consult your GP.
Awareness surrounding irregular heartbeats has grown recently. While occasional skipped heartbeats are usually harmless, a consistently fast and erratic heartbeat warrants a visit to your GP. If accompanied by blackouts, call an ambulance.
Professor Newby said: “This is a hot topic at the moment, there’s a lot of focus on diagnosing irregular heartbeats. I did an audit of the heart monitors we give out to people for investigation and from about 700 people, we found only about 20 that had atrial fibrillation [which can increase your risk of stroke]. The vast majority of people just had extra ectopic beats, which are usually harmless.
“I would suggest that a jumped heartbeat is usually benign and nothing to get too concerned by. Being aware of your own heartbeat is really quite common and in itself nothing to get anxious about. If your heart is going very fast and jumping around erratically then that’s when you should see your GP. If you feel like this and then you experience blackouts, call an ambulance.”
The classic symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, often described as heaviness, tightness, or pressure. If you experience intense chest pain and feel extremely unwell, dial 999 for an ambulance. Exertional chest pain that subsides upon rest may indicate angina, still requiring a doctor’s visit but not necessarily an emergency.
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