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Would You Recognize the Signs of a Heart Attack?

(Chester County Moms - February 22, 2012)

Scary but true ... heart disease is America's #1 killer. The Chester County Hospital and Health System wants you to keep your heart strong and healthy. We encourage everyone to take some time to become familiar with the signs of a heart attack, so that you would recognize them if you saw them, and so that you don't ignore them if you feel them yourself. If you believe you or someone around you is having a heart attack, it is critical to call 9-1-1 immediately. We cannot emphasis that point enough.

Prescription for a Healthy Heart

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a balanced diet with reasonable portion sizes.
  • Keep body mass index (BMI) as close to 25 as possible. (Weight in pounds x 704.5 / height in inches)
  • Don't smoke.
  • Check blood pressure regularly per your doctor and maintain an optimal level. (normal 120-140/80)
  • If you have diabetes (high blood sugar) use diet, exercise, weight control, and perhaps medication, to keep blood sugar within desired range (100-150).
  • Have cholesterol (including different types) checked and control different levels with diet, exercise and medication as directed by your doctor.
  • See your doctor regularly to discuss management of all risk factors (as well as the care and treatment of any other condition you may have).

To help people identify their own heart health risks, The Chester County Hospital offers a free online assessment, called Heart Tracks Cardiac Risk Assessment (TM). An in-person version of Heart Tracks is also available.

Heart Attack Symptoms
A heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) does not feel the same for every person. In fact, women may experience different symptoms than men.

Potential Signs of a Heart Attack in Men

  • Chest pain
  • Feeling of pressure or heaviness on the chest
  • Chest tightness
  • Pain extending to the neck, jaw, shoulders or down the arm
  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, tightness or burning sensation under the breastbone

These signs for men may be accompanied by...

  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of Breath

Potential Signs of a Heart Attack in Women
Women may experience these less common heart attack symptoms:

  • Abnormal chest pain
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Palpitations
  • Diffuse anxiety

If you have no known history of heart disease and experience any of the above symptoms, you should:

  1. Stop activity and sit or lie down.
  2. Call 9-1-1 if pain continues for more than five minutes.

If you have heart disease and develop any of the above symptoms, you should:

  1. Stop activity and sit or lie down.
  2. Take nitroglycerin under your tongue - one tablet every five minutes for a maximum of three tablets until the symptoms are gone.
  3. Call 9-1-1 if the symptoms continue.

We cannot stress enough the importance of calling 9-1-1. If you believe you or someone you love is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. DO NOT DRIVE yourself and DO NOT ALLOW anyone else to drive you to the hospital! Treatment begins as soon as the emergency personnel arrive. This can make a difference since early treatment of a heart problem improves your chances of a successful outcome.


This information is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare provider. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Last Updated: 9/18/2012