How to recognise a heart attack
Often people expect a heart attack to
be dramatic like it is in the movies.
But in reality — most often — that is
not the case. This article thus spells
out the signs and symptoms of a
What happens during a heart
During a heart attack, the blood flow to the heart muscle is either reduced or
completely stops. This typically happens because of a blood clot that is blocking an
artery. When the heart muscle does not get oxygen-rich blood, it ceases to work.
Some common heart attack symptoms:
A heart attack often causes chest pain.
1. There is a feeling of fullness or a clasping pain in the centre of the chest. Most
victims describe the pain as akin to an elephant standing on the chest
(extreme pain). It usually lasts for about 15 minutes.
2. One also experiences shooting pain in the shoulders, neck, arm, back and
sometimes even the teeth and jaw.
3. One finds increasing episodes of chest pain.
4. Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen.
5. Shortness of breath.
6. The victim might experience heavy sweating.
7. Since the heart’s pumping action is severely impaired during a severe heart
attack, the victim might lose his/her consciousness.
8. Nausea and vomiting
9. In rare cases, as in patients who are diabetic, the heart attack may not be
very painful, and sometimes can even be entirely painless.
Other heart attack symptoms
The elderly, diabetics, people on steroids as well as women are less likely to have
obvious symptoms like severe chest pain (as often seen in men). These are some
symptoms they are likely to have:
Pain in the abdomen
Dizziness or light-headedness
Tightness or pain in the neck, shoulder or upper back
Heart attack symptoms are not the same for all…
Not everyone who has a heart attack has the same symptoms. Many a time, we also
tend to ignore a heart attack thinking it might be mere abdominal discomfort due to
gas pains or indigestion. If you have more than a few symptoms listed above, then
you are likely to be having an attack. Get emergency help immediately.
What to do in case of a heart attack?
1. Rush to a hospital: If you recognise that you or someone around is having a
heart attack, get immediate medical help.
2. Give Disprin (Asprin): As soon as you recognise it is an attack, crush a
disprin, dissolve it in water and make the person drink it.
3. Emergency numbers: Every office and home must keep a list of emergency
numbers like that of an ambulance service, hospital.
A heart attack is different from a cardiac arrest
Do not confuse a heart attack with cardiac arrest. In the case of a cardiac arrest,
the heart suddenly stops. It occurs due to an electrical disturbance that obstructs
the heart’s pumping function, which results in stopping blood flow to the rest of the
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
SCA is a chaotic electrical
condition of the heart resulting
in the loss of blood flow to the
brain and body. The most
common form of SCA is
Electrical impulses of the heart
become chaotic due to a blow to
the chest or other (sometimesCauses
unknown) health-related issues.
As a result, the heart stops
beating regularly and begins to
The medical term for a heart attack
is myocardial infarction: a blockage
of the coronary arteries leading to a
decrease in blood flow. When this
happens, the heart muscles die or
become permanently damaged.
Plaque made of cholesterol and other
cells builds up in the walls of the
heart’s arteries. When the buildup is
great enough, the plaque creates a
blockage, known as an occlusion,
which restricts the blood supply to
the heart muscle.
Warning signs of heart attack
Typically, there are no
include a tightening feeling in the
symptoms to SCA. Usually, the chest, a sore or numb left arm, lower
Symptoms first indication of SCA is when back, neck, and/or jaw. Other signs
the victim faints. The second
include bad indigestion, a feeling
sign is breathing cessation.
that something heavy is sitting on
your chest, and shortness of breath.
A sudden cardiac arrest victim
The victim of a heart attack is
always loses consciousness
usually conscious and alert.
from lack of oxygen.
A victim of SCA will die unless
Most victims can recover fully and
treated. If left untreated, the
lead normal lives, but about a third
chances of survival decrease by
of heart attacks are deadly. A heart
10% per minute. Typically,
attack can lead to sudden cardiac
permanent brain damage
occurs within 5-7 minutes.
The only treatment for SCA is One treatment of a heart attack can
defibrillation from an
be angioplasty, which opens up the
blocked vessels with a medical
defibrillator (AED). A shock
balloon. Afterwards, a stent can be
from the AED stops the chaotic placed in the artery to help keep it
electrical activity and allows
open. Other treatments include clotthe heart's sinus node to resume busting drugs called thrombolytics
a normal electrical impulse.
or nitroglycerin to reduce chest pain.
With inputs from Dr Deepak Krishnamurthy, consultant interventional cardiologist
with Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore