The hidden signs of a heart attack

Signs of a heart attack can be vague in women. Photo / iStock
Signs of a heart attack can be vague in women. Photo / iStock

Would you know the symptoms of a heart attack?

While many of us picture the scene as a middle-aged man clutching his chest and dropping to the floor, the reality isn't always as dramatic, and signs can vary hugely between men and women.

To make matters even more difficult, Dr Joseph Fritz, from the University of Alabama in the US, tells the Daily Mail that each heart attack is different, and signs and symptoms won't necessarily follow a predictable pattern every time.

However, he says some of the more common signs experienced by both men and women include:

• chest tightness
• pain or pressure in the chest, neck, jaw, arms or back
• unusual fatigue
• shortness of breath
• nausea and vomiting

Other symptoms more common in men:

• muscle weakness
• breaking out in a cold sweat
• dizziness

Other symptoms more common in women:

• sleep disturbances
• indigestion
• anxiety, or a sense of dread
• jaw pain

Symptoms of a heart condition can be vague in women and, according to stats from the American Heart Foundation, women are more likely to die within a year of their first heart attack than men.

Dr John Erwin, a cardiologist at the Texas A&M Health Center, says even some minor health problems such as bleeding gums and snoring could be an indicator of poor heart health, as when the heart and arteries begin to fail, symptoms can manifest in seemingly unrelated parts of the body.

Heart attack symptoms don't always follow a predictable pattern. Photo / iStock
Heart attack symptoms don't always follow a predictable pattern. Photo / iStock

Here, Dr Erwin reveals six of the lesser-known symptoms of heart disease that you should get checked out by a doctor:

Snoring or sleep apnoea

Perhaps one of the most annoying noises in existence - snoring - can be a common sign of sleep apnoea, says Dr Erwin.

"Sleep apnoea - periods of time during sleep where you stop breathing - is associated with many physiological changes that increase the risk of both heart attack and stroke," he says.

"Snoring can also be a sign of atrial fibrillation - which is an irregular, often rapid heart rate that causes poor blood flow."

Bleeding, sore or swollen gums

Unhealthy gums can be a sign of periodontitis, a serious dental condition that not only causes pain and inflammation, but damages the gums and jawbone.

Periodontitis can lead to an increase in inflammation across the body, according to Dr Erwin. And, over-activity of inflammatory pathways is a strong risk factor for the development of atherosclerotic heart disease and heart attack.

Sexual dysfunction

Men - if things aren't as they used to be between the sheets, it could be a sign of arterial disease. A buildup of plaque in the arteries can cause men to have a hard time achieving or maintaining erection, says Dr Erwin.

For women, a drop in libido is common after menopause, yet being post-menopausal places women in a higher risk category for developing heart disease.

"While menopause doesn't cause cardiovascular diseases, certain heart-health risks - like changes in blood pressure and cholesterol levels - begin around the time of menopause," he says.

Shoulder or neck stiffness or ache

While some heart attack sufferers have described the feeling as "an elephant sitting on their chest", or a squeezing sensation in the arms, for others, an uncomfortable achiness is the only symptom of a serious heart attack.

Pain or pressure in the neck, jaw or shoulders, should be closely monitored.

Puffy feet and legs

While feet can swell due to a range of minor causes, persistent puffiness can signify a problem.

Swollen legs and feet can be a marker of congestive heart failure, particularly in cases where a person has unusual shortness of breath with activity, or when trying to sleep.

If swelling is a regular occurrence for you, check it out with your doctor.

Indigestion or heartburn

Although unpleasant, indigestion is rarely serious.

But in some cases, that burning sensation in the upper abdomen can be a sign of the pain of a heart attack.

As well as heartburn, persistent gastrointestinal distress - such as hiccups that are hard to get rid of - can also be a precursor to a more serious condition.

"It's not uncommon to see people come into the emergency room after chewing on antacids for hours before they realize the pain is something more," says Dr Erwin.

If heartburn also comes with nausea, sweating, shortness of breath or lightheadedness, it should be checked by a doctor.

- Daily Mail

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