Heart disease symptoms - and when to call for help.

Following are important heart disease symptoms you need to be aware of. If you are concerned about your situation, talk to your doctor.

If you think you are in danger, call 9-1-1 immediately.*

By calling 9-1-1 you can get lifesaving treatment as soon as emergency medical services arrive. Emergency staff are trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. As well, patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital.

If you can't access emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

Heart disease symptoms

Chest discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing or a painful feeling in your chest are all symptoms of heart disease. Sometimes these symptoms be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. The proper name for this is angina. While angina is usually felt in the chest, it may be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back.

Other heart disease symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heart beats, palpitations, or skipped beats
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Heart attack symptoms

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense but for many, heart attacks start slowly with mild pain or discomfort.

Here are signs that a heart attack might be happening:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Fullness, indigestion, (may feel like heartburn) nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Extreme weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

During a heart attack, symptoms typically last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or medication. Initially, symptoms can start as mild discomfort, then progress to significant pain. Symptoms may go away and come back.

Read Dan's story of how listening to his body (and his wife) saved his life.

In some cases, people can have a heart attack without having any symptoms. This occurs more often among diabetics.

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.The sooner you get help the better the chances are for recovery.
Men versus women?

Similar to men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But many women experience other symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. It may be discomfort or pressure in the back or between the shoulder blades. For some women, the symptoms are extremely vague, which makes it difficult to assess what's really happening.

If you're not sure it's a heart attack - err on the safe side and check it out. Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1.
Signs of cardiac arrest include sudden loss of responsiveness and normal breathing.

If the signs of cardiac arrest are present, tell someone to call 9-1-1, get an automated defibrillator (if one is available), and begin CPR immediately.

If you are alone with an adult who has signs of cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR.

Symptoms of heart failure:

  • Shortness of breath noted during activity or at rest, especially when you lie down flat in bed
  • Cough with white mucus
  • A weight gain of two or three pounds in one day
  • Swelling in ankles, legs, and abdomen
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Nausea, palpitations, and chest pain

Symptoms of arrhythmias:

  • Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats or fluttering)
  • Pounding in your chest
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Weakness or feeling extremely tired

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of arrhythmia. Most people with AF experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Lack of energy feeling tired
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath during activities of daily living

Some patients with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms.

Symptoms of heart valve disease:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath during normal activities or when you lie down flat in bed
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Discomfort in your chest
  • Pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air
  • Palpitations, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a flip-flop feeling

A heart murmur may also be an indication of problems with the functioning of your valves.

If valve disease causes heart failure, symptoms may include swelling of your ankles, feet, or abdomen. Swelling may also occur in your belly, causing you to feel bloated. You could also experience a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day.

Symptoms do not always relate to the seriousness of your valve disease. You may have no symptoms and have severe valve disease requiring treatment. Or, you may have severe symptoms, yet tests may show minor valve disease.

If you have concerns about any of these heart disease symptoms, talk to your doctor. If you think you are in trouble, call 9-1-1 NOW. Don't take chances. You are better safe than sorry.

In North America 9-1-1 is the accepted number for contacting emergency fire, ambulance and police services. Some jurisdictions may not yet be using this number.

Also, many countries have different emergency numbers. For example, the number in the United Kingdom is 9-9-9; in Belgium it is 9-0-0; in Australia and Denmark - 0-0-0; Japan - 1-1-9. In many countries there are different numbers for medical, fire and police emergencies.

Know the medical emergency number for your area!

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