The heart attack is probably one of the best known acutely life-threatening conditions. Almost everyone knows a person who has suffered a heart attack. Some may even have witnessed a friend or stranger having a heart attack.
But what exactly are the signs, symptoms and harbingers of such a heart attack? How do I notice that I myself or a third party is at risk of suffering a heart attack? And what is the difference between a heart attack in men and women? The following section deals with these questions in detail and provides an overview of the most important signs of a heart attack, which is also called myocardial infarction.
General signs of a heart attack
A heart attack rarely comes suddenly. There are a number of important precursors that can indicate an impending myocardial infarction. However, the longer you allow time to pass and do not interpret the signs correctly, the more your chances of survival decrease.
The harbingers of a heart attack can be falsely associated with another condition and therefore very often go unnoticed. Such harbingers include nausea and dizziness or unspecific upper abdominal pain. They can precede the heart attack by weeks.
People who belong to the risk group for heart attacks, for example people with arterial occlusive disease, should therefore pay more attention to such symptoms. These harbingers are easily confused with a gastrointestinal infection. Another harbinger of myocardial infarction can be angina pectoris, the chest tightness.
This chest tightness can pass after a few minutes. However, a frequent occurrence can be a sign of an impending heart attack and should not be ignored. Such a frequent occurrence of angina pectoris can be caused by stress or, for example, overweight, and old age is also a risk factor.
So what are the typical acute signs of a myocardial infarction? Again, there are some differences and no general rule of thumb. In general, the pale, sweaty patient who suffers from severe pain and anxiety dominates the picture.
However, the patient can also be symptom-free. It is also possible to have a complete circulatory arrest with unconsciousness. The strong pressure pain in the chest is generally known, which is accompanied by a feeling of tightness in the chest.
However, a heart attack can also become noticeable only by a pulling in the left breast or not at all. The latter is known as a “silent heart attack“. The pain can cause shortness of air and breathing difficulties.
Those affected have the feeling that “someone is sitting on their chest”. As a result of the breathing difficulties, patients may panic and become cold sweaty. If the symptoms persist for a longer period of time, the affected persons become pale and start to tremble as a result of the high exertion.
This can lead to nausea and the so-called pain of annihilation. Pain of destruction is a very strong pain characterised by a feeling of fear of death and helplessness. This also occurs, for example, with pulmonary embolisms.
The chest pain is located directly behind the sternum. Pain in the right shoulder and radiating pain in the left arm are also typical as signs of a heart attack. About half of the patients complain of such pain.
In general, pain stimuli are transmitted via certain nerves from the point of origin to the spinal column and transported to the brain via the spinal cord running through it. From there they are perceived by us as pain. However, several pain pathways enter the spinal cord at the same height, so the point of origin can sometimes not be precisely assigned.
Since pain is generally more frequent in the limbs than in internal organs, pain that originates in the heart is often perceived as pain in the left arm. A numb arm can also be a sign of a heart attack. This is due to the fact that the nerve pathways that are responsible for the perception of the arms and heart follow a similar path to the brain.
There, such severe diseases as a heart attack can lead to confusion. However, a deaf arm does not necessarily have to be associated with a heart attack. Like the pain in the left arm, back pain, especially in the upper back between the shoulder blades, can indicate a heart attack. These pains are also caused by the fact that the pain pathways from the back have partly the same course as the pain pathways of the heart and for this reason cannot be distinguished in perception. One should try to exclude other causes of back pain and, if a heart attack is suspected, pay particular attention to a sudden occurrence.