Originally written for Bell Wellness Centre. Published on February 16, 2016 on bellwellness.com
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, there are an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada. That is one every seven minutes. Approximately 14,000 Canadians die each year from a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the coronary arteries, the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle with blood and oxygen, become blocked. As the heart tissue dies, the heart loses its ability to pump blood to the body effectively which can lead to death.
Women and men may experience heart attack differently and may also differ in how heart attack symptoms are described when asked. Both women and men may experience typical or non-typical symptoms such as the feeling of impending doom, nausea, breathlessness, sweating, and pain in the arm, throat or jaw. However, women may experience anxiety and sudden fatigue as symptoms more commonly than men. Other factors that affect the symptoms experienced during a heart attack can include your history of heart attack and your age.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Men
Men tend to experience the classic symptoms such as crushing chest pain and right-sided discomfort more predominantly than women. Other symptoms that men may experience more include a squeezing in the chest, indigestion, irregular or rapid heart rate and dizziness.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
It is only in recent decades that scientists began to study heart attack symptoms in women. Although women may experience the typical symptoms of crushing chest pain, other symptoms include an overwhelming fatigue, insomnia and anxiety. Many of these symptoms may be present weeks before the heart attack occurs. Pain that moves down your arm, throat pain and jaw pain are other common symptoms in women.
First Aid for Heart Attack
Heart attack symptoms should not be taken lightly. If you experience any of the symptoms described or if you feel ‘off’, phone 911, loosen any tight clothing and take relaxed breaths. If you have been prescribed nitroglycerin by your doctor, take your dose by placing it under your tongue. Nitro-glycerin works by dilating your blood vessels to allow more blood to feed your heart. The nitro-glycerin can be taken until the pain has subsided for a maximum of 3 doses. Remember to not take nitro-glycerin if you have taken a medication for erectile dysfunction such as Cialis or Viagra within the past 24 hours. Taking these medications together can lead to a lethal drop in your blood pressure.
If nitro-glycerin is not available to you, it is commonly recommended to take acetyl salicylic acid (ASA) or Aspirin. ASA is a blood thinner that will improve blood flow to your heart while you wait for help. Research has shown that taking ASA during the first few minutes of a heart attack can reduce your risk of death. It is important to chew and swallow the tablets for quick absorption.
Do not hesitate to phone 911 if you think you are having a heart attack. The sooner you get the help you need, the more likely you will have a full recovery.