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Heart Attack Prevention and Warning Signs

We have all seen an actor in a movie or television show portray a heart attack. But did you know that, in reality, the symptoms of a heart attack could actually be very different?

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms

The Mayo Clinic identifies these symptoms as the most common warning signs of a heart attack :

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw, or back
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness

It is important to note that not all patients will experience all of these symptoms. They may experience only one or two symptoms, or they may have subtle discomfort over a few days, or they might have a sudden onset of extreme pressure and pain. Each person’s experience of a heart attack may vary.

Signs of a Heart Attack in Women

In particular, women are known to experience slightly different warning signs than men. As described by the American Heart Association (AHA):

“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. “Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure, or extreme fatigue.”

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Unfortunately, too often women confuse the symptoms of a heart attack with less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu, or “just getting old.”

According to the AHA, a heart attack strikes someone about every 43 seconds. If you or a loved one experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog post, please call 911 and get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Heart Attack Prevention

While the statistics are scary, the good news is we know how to lower the odds of a heart attack. The AHA recommends these lifestyle changes to lower your risk factors for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke:

  • Stop smoking – Smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to break, but also one of the most clear-cut ways to improve your health .
  • Choose good nutrition – The foods you choose to eat affect multiple risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight.
  • Treat high blood cholesterol – If diet and physical activity are not enough to lower your low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, then medication may be needed.
  • Lower high blood pressure – An optimal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mmHg. To get there, limit your salt intake, take the medications recommended by your doctor, and exercise.
  • Be physically active – Research recommends three to four exercise sessions per week, lasting on average 40 minutes per session, and involving moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to prevent a heart attack .
  • Maintain a healthy weight – Obesity places you at risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes — risk factors that also heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Manage diabetes – The AHA reports that approximately 68 percent of people over 65 years of age with diabetes die of some form of heart disease. Managing your diabetes well can lower that risk.
  • Reduce stress – Research has shown that there is a relationship between heart disease and stress , possibly due to the connection between stress and other risk factors like overeating, smoking, or other negative health habits.
  • Limit alcohol – Much like smoking, drinking too much alcohol increases your risk for multiple elements of heart disease. Moderating consumption is key for heart health.

Even if you follow these guidelines perfectly, there are some risk factors for heart attack that cannot be changed , such as age, gender, and hereditary traits. That is why it is so important to work closely with your doctor to manage your health and to take your medications as prescribed. For example, statins are proving to play a major role in managing heart disease. Statins reduce deaths from coronary heart disease by 28 percent in men, according to the results of a long-term research study released in 2017 .

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Don’t let cost be a barrier to good heart health. If your doctor has prescribed statins or other medications to help manage your cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other risk factors for heart disease, sign up for a prescription discount card from FamilyWize. Free and easy to use, our card has helped over 10 million people nationwide save more than $1 billion on their prescription medications.


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