Treat heart attack symptoms seriously

April 5, 2010

Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack can be elusive. The dramatic clutching of one’s chest that you see in the movies is far less common than more subtle indicators that may signal a need for medical attention.

Even Jerry Livingston, R.N., M.S.N., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing with 10 years as a nurse manager in hospital emergency rooms, missed some key signs.

“Having maintained a healthy diet and the demanding exercise regimen required to run ultra-marathons, it never occurred to me that my heart could be in trouble,” Livingston says. “I had been dealing with high stress jobs for 20 years, and there was a history of heart disease in my family, but that was why I had been so very careful with my health. Tests revealed a 99.9 percent blocked artery, and the cardiologist placed a stent in the affected artery. I know I narrowly escaped death.”

Suffice to say, Livingston learned from his experience.

“Within a week, I was amazed at how much better I felt,” Livingston says. “It was as if I had been magically granted the energy levels and stamina of my younger years. I learned from this experience that a heart in distress does not follow hard and fast rules when showing its symptoms.”

If you are feeling tired and lethargic, or lack the energy, stamina or longevity in your usual physical activity, consult your physician. If you have signs of an acute heart attack, such as sub-sternal chest pain, pain to the left arm or lower jaw accompanied with shortness of breath, call 911. Getting proper treatment quickly improves your chance of survival and minimizes damage to your heart, Livingston says.

For women, the signs and symptoms of an impending heart attack may be quite different than in men, according to Diane Benson, R.N., Ed.D., associate professor in the HSC-College of Nursing.

“Discomfort or pressure in the chest is still the most common symptom of heart attack in women; however, women are more likely to not experience chest pain,” Dr. Benson says. “Instead, heart attack symptoms in women are shortness of breath, lightheadedness, unusual fatigue or pain in the shoulders, upper back, jaw or abdomen.”

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