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Matters of the Heart | Know the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack


February is American Heart Month. Traditionally a month when hearts are top of mind, it’s the perfect time to talk about the warning signs of a heart attack and to commit to a lifestyle that improves overall heart health.

Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is cut off or decreased. If not promptly treated, the heart muscle fails to pump and begins to die. The sooner emergency treatment begins, the better chance of a surviving a heart attack.

Understanding the risks you face can help prevent a heart attack. Major risk factors that you can control include smoking, overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, an unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity. Some risk factors cannot be controlled such as your age or family history.

Common warning signs of a heart attack for men and women are: 

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the upper body, arms, neck jaw, back or upper stomach

If you think you or someone else might be having a heart attack don’t wait, call 9-1-1 immediately. An experienced emergency medical services team can begin treatment and arrange rapid transport to the emergency room.

At the emergency room, health care experts can perform tests to determine if a heart attack is occurring and decide the best course of treatment. Remember, quick treatment can save your life.

If you have suffered a heart attack, your heart might be damaged. This could affect its rhythm and ability to circulate blood throughout your body. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease.

You can decrease the likelihood of having future health problems after a heart attack with these steps:
Physical activity. After a heart attack your doctor might want you to limit work, travel or other activities for a period of time.
Lifestyle changes. Improve your heart health by following a healthy diet, increasing exercise, quitting smoking, taking prescribed medications, and managing stress.
Cardiac rehabilitation. This supervised program is for anyone recovering from a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problem that required surgery or medical care and includes physical activity, education about healthy living, and mental health counseling.

Dr. John Modica is a board-certified cardiologist at Day Kimball Hospital. For more information on cardiac care available at Day Kimball Healthcare, click here.

Areas of Related Interest

Dr. John Modica, Cardiologist
Patient Services: Cardiology
Heart Health Tips

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