SOMEONE clutching their chest tends to be the stereotypical image when we think of someone having a heart attack.
But in reality it’s rarely that dramatic.
Many people don’t realise that you can have a heart attack without feeling any chest pain at all.
In fact, there are some early warning signs that can present themselves up to a month before the life-threatening event.
Most of which can easily be confused with other conditions – or simply overlooked.
It’s especially the case for women who experts say are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment quickly.
Prevention is always better than cure so it’s valuable to know what to look out for.
Here are some of the warning signs…
We can also experience feeling tired from time to time, but experts say that extreme fatigue can be a sign that something is wrong.
It’s much more likely to affect women – around 70 per cent – who also may also put their symptoms down to flu, according to Healthline.
Feel exhausted for no reason could begin months before a heart attack, which is why it’s vital to see a doctor as early as possible.
2. Abdominal pain
Pain in the abdomen, empty or full stomach nausea, feeling bloated and an upset stomach are some of the most common symptoms.
Some 50 per cent of cases of a heart attack involved some sort of abdominal pain, according to Bright Side.
They have an episodic nature – easing and then returning for short periods of time.
WHAT IS A HEART ATTACK?
- A heart attack happens when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich blood, often as a result of a blockage
- The lack of oxygen causes the muscle to be damaged
- Most heart attacks are triggered by coronary heart disease, the British Heart Foundation notes
- This is when the coronary arteries – the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood, become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fat inside the walls
- If a piece of this fatty material breaks away, it can cause a blood clot or blockage to form. If it then blocks the coronary artery it can cut off the blood supply to the heart
As heart attacks tend to affect older people, these these signs are often dismissed as heartburn or other food-related complications.
If you normally have a tough stomach, then this could be a signal from your body that something is up.
Insomnia is also linked with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke – and is more common among women.
Symptoms include difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, and early-morning awakening.
Experts have previously found significant associations between insomnia and heart attack risk.
Researchers in China, reporting in the journal Neurology, found that people who had three types of insomnia symptoms were 18 per cent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
4. Shortness of breath
The heart pumps blood so it can circulate to your tissues and get oxygen to your lungs.
If your heart can’t pump blood effectively – as is the case with a heart attack – then it can cause breathlessness.
This symptom is diagnosed in 40 per cent of cases and is a strong feeling of being unable to draw a deep breath.
It can be an accompanying symptom to unusual fatigue in women, but can occur for both genders up to six months prior to a heart attack.
5. Hair loss
Losing hair is considered to be another visible indicator of the risk of heart disease.
It tends to most commonly affect men over 50, but some women may also be affected.
Pay close attention to losing hair from the crown of your head especially, says Bright Side.
6. Irregular heartbeat
Heart rhythm problems, known as arrhythmias, occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly, according to Mayo Clinic.
It may feel like a fluttering or racing heart and can be accompanied by a panic attack, especially among women.
Some people report that the irregular heartbeat lasts for one to two minutes. If it doesn’t fade you may feel dizziness or extreme fatigue.
If you are suffering this symptom it’s important to speak to a GP immediately or call 111.
7. Excessive sweating
Sweating more than usual – especially if you’ve not been active – could be an early warning sign.
Pumping blood around clogged arteries takes more effort from your heart, so your body sweats more to try to keep the body temperature down.
Women often mistake this symptom as a hot flush or a night sweat more typical of menopause.
But if you wake up and the sheets are damp or experience cold sweats and clammy skin then it’s worth consulting your doctor.
8. Chest pain
Chest pain, or discomfort, is one of the most common early sign of a heart attack.
People have described it as feeling like an elephant standing on their chest.
Others say it’s more of a chest tightness or squeezing sensation.
It may seem bad for a few minutes and then go away, and come back hours or even a day later.
Chest pain tends to affect just 30 per cent of women – which is why it’s vital to know the other signs.
If you are suffering this symptom, speak to your GP immediately or call 111 for advice.
A heart attack is a medical emergency and can be life threatening.
If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.
If you’re not sure, it’s still important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to be on the safe side.