By Dr. David Faxon

I have years of experience in treating cardiovascular diseases through interventional cardiology techniques and am a longstanding member of the American Heart Association (AHA). I served on the AHA and American College of Cardiology’s task force on practice guidelines and acted as President of the American Heart Association for one year. AHA provides a wide variety of research and news on cardiology and heart health, ranging from the highly technical, to articles promoting heart-positive habits for the general public.

Many Americans falsely believe that heart attacks occur suddenly and intensely with the victim and those around fully aware that cardiac arrest is taking place. This reflects the dramatic requirements of many movies and television programs, which present health events in a memorable, and often unrealistic, fashion. In reality, many heart attacks sneak up on individuals who lack awareness of the danger signs and thus wait far too long before seeking medical assistance.

While the early warning signs of a heart attack may feel more subtle than sudden severe chest pains, those who pay attention can often spot the symptoms. Chest discomfort (angina) is a major sign, with a feeling of constriction or uncomfortable pressure, or  pain. Angina generally lasting several minutes while a heart attach lasts longer than 30 minutes. Alternatively, the pain may go away and come back again at intervals, alerting an individual that a heart attach may be immenent. Discomfort in other regions of the upper body, including the arms, neck, back, stomach, and jaw, may also be a sign of angina or a heart attach. Shortness of breath serves as another critical sign, despite not always being accompanied by chest pain. This is particularly true for the elderly or women. Pay attention to other unusual aspects of your body’s condition, including lightheadedness, nausea, and breaking into a cold sweat.

Anyone with issues, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, or hereditary factors, should exercise significant caution about these warning signs. One should not hesitate to call an emergency medical services (911) if he or she experiences early heart attack symptoms, as taking timely action may save a life.

About the Author: Dr. David Faxon has treated patients using his cardiologic expertise since 1976, in addition to acting as Program Director for several cardiology-focused graduate medical courses over the years.