Heart Attack Symptoms
NOTE: Heart attack symptoms can mimic anxiety symptoms. It's best to seek immediate medical attention if you aren't sure if you are having anxiety symptoms or a heart emergency.
Heart attack, heart attack symptoms are also known as a myocardial infarction, coronary occlusion, or thrombosis, It occurs when the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen become occluded (blocked) by a blood clot. This occlusion prevents the flow of oxygenated blood to a section of the heart muscle.
Symptoms of a heart attack:
When the occlusion of the flow of blood is severe or prolonged, usually a period of 35 minutes to 2 hours, cardiac pain of sudden onset is commonly associated with it. The pain is often described as:
- Intense pressure, stabbing or crushing in nature (is often referred to as feeling as if someone is sitting in the middle of the chest).
- The pain is generally located below the sternum (the flat bone in the center front of the chest) or along the front of the chest.
- Additionally, the pain can also radiate down one or both arms, into the neck, back, and jaw areas.
Other symptoms associated with a heart attack are:
- Labored breathing
- Profuse cold sweating
- Decreased urinary output (less than 20 ml. per hour as measured by an indwelling catheter)
- Low grade fever
- Decreased circulation to the extremities
- Gray facial color
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate, usually above 100 beats per minute) or bradycardia (slow heart rate, usually below 52 beats per minute)
- Weak pulse
- Systolic blood pressure below 80 mm. Hg
- Irregular heartbeat described as a galloping heart sound.
Frequently, heart attacks are experienced in the presence of physical or emotional stress. However, they have been known to occur while at rest, too. Soreness from a myocardial infarction can last anywhere from one to three days.
A heart attack may permanently damage the heart muscle. However, today we have “clot busting” drugs that have proven to be very effective in dissolving the clot and allowing for the restoration of circulation to the affected heart tissue. This has resulted in the decrease in the extent of cellular death distal to the occlusion.
Upon arrival at the hospital emergency room, patients are taken from the vehicle to the emergency room via stretcher or wheelchair. Walking is strongly discouraged at this time due to the extra stress it puts on the heart muscle.
Patient’s can expect to have blood drawn for testing. Elevation in the plasma levels (a component of blood) of certain intracellular enzymes are typically present during or immediately following a heart attack and can be identified by laboratory testing. These enzymes include SGOT, LDH, and CPK. Although they are not conclusive evidence of a heart attack, they are extremely useful diagnostic tools when combined with other data collected from additional procedures and observations.
Patients will be given an electrocardiography (ECK or EKG) as part of the standard procedures for suspected myocardial infarction. Commonly, there are changes in the normal electrocardiograph readings indicative of a myocardial infarction. Doctors look for a wide deep Q wave, S-T segment elevation, or T wave inversion.
People who think they may be experiencing a heart attack are encouraged to report to the hospital emergency room promptly. Early intervention has proven to save lives, greatly reduced the extent of injury to the heart muscle, and often has lead to more positive prognoses for clients.
Risk factors for a heart attack
- High cholesterol level
- High blood pressure
- Family history of heart attack
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Lack of exercise
The following lifestyle changes can help prevent heart attacks:
- Avoid caffeine (especially after noon) and nicotine
- Practice stress reduction techniques such as deep diaphragmatic breathing, deep relaxation or meditation
- Seek stress and/or anxiety self-help or Personal Coaching
- Quit smoking. You may want to check with your doctor to discuss aids to quit smoking. If you don't smoke, don't start!
- Eat a healthy diet. Cut back on foods high in saturated fat and sodium (salt) to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Ask your doctor about how to start eating a healthy diet
- Control your sugar intake (especially if you have diabetes)
- Exercise. At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (that raises your heart rate) at least 4 times a week
- Lose weight if you're overweight
- Control your blood pressure if you have hypertension
These lifestyle changes can go a long way to prevent a heart related medical condition and heart attack.
NOTE: We recommend that you have a complete medical evaluation done anytime you have a medical concern. Medical professionals are well trained to identify serious medical conditions. It's recommended that you fully describe your symptoms to your doctor, then work with her/him through to the correct diagnosis.
While there are many anxiety-like medical conditions, most conditions have uniquely identifiable symptoms UNCOMMON to anxiety. If you have seen your doctor and he/she has ruled out this anxiety-like medical condition, you can feel confident that their diagnosis is correct. If, however, you feel he/she has missed something, you should persist with your doctor until you are satisfied. You may also want to get second and even third opinions if you are still unsatisfied.
Because it is common for anxiety sufferers to 'over worry' about their symptoms (since so many conditions produce anxiety-like symptoms we often scare ourselves when we look at all of the conditions we COULD have), having a thorough medical evaluation completed will most often alleviate these fears.
For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
Return to our anxiety symptoms page.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated September 3, 2018.