It's a nightmare situation, you or someone you are with starts having symptoms of a heart attack.  Once a heart attack starts, each minute that passes reduces a person's chances of survival.  This means that being prepared by having thought about what you should do can make a life or death difference. 

FIRST: You should be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack.  It is very important to not play "Junior Internet Doctor" and diagnose yourself with something other than a heart attack.  Many people who delay treatment do not survive.  Testimony from many of these unfortunate cases state similar stories, "They thought it was a pulled muscle or upset stomach", or they didn't tell anyone around them that they were in pain and experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. 

In my own experience I was so sure I couldn't be having a heart attack at age 46 that I figured I had Pericarditis, an infection/inflammation of the sack your heart sits in.  Because I am used to listening to my body because of all of the cycling I do daily, I quickly realized that I was in fact having a life-threatening heart attack.  But I also know the symptoms because I worked in a cardiac hospital for years. 
It's important to remember that symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person.  Just because you don't have shooting pain running down your arm doesn't mean that the heavy, crushing feeling you are experiencing in your chest isn't a heart attack.  My pain was all the way across my chest - both sides not just the left.  And I had no pain in my jaw or neck or back or arms.  I did have a tingling/numb sensation in my fingertips and wrists.  But the pain was limited to my chest and never travelled anywhere else.  I certainly didn't have the typical heart attack symptoms - but the pain was beyond anything I'd ever felt.  So I knew it was something very serious.  If I had waited to get treatment I'd probably not survived another couple of hours. 

Symptoms can be different between men and women. 

Likewise, women generally have higher pain tolerances than men so their symptoms may be much less severe. 

Here is a list of the most common symptoms experienced by heart attack patients:
  • Chest Discomfort - Pressure, squeezing, crushing sensation, dull but intense pain.  This pain can be located towards the left side of the chest, the center of the chest, or across the entire chest.  Chest discomfort is the most common symptom for both men and women
    *This was the primary symptom that I experienced. 

  • Shortness of Breath - with or without chest discomfort.  This is much more common in men that in women
    *I want to note that I never experienced shortness of breath. 

  • Pain in Other Areas of The Upper Body - Pain in your left arm or both arms, pain in your jaw, back, or stomach.  This is less common in women.  
    *I want to note that I never experienced any of these symptoms.

  • Diaphoresis (Cold Sweats) - This is when you feel cold but you are sweating uncontrollably. 
    *I DID experience this symptom.

  • Nausea - Many heart attack victims mistake their symptoms for food poisoning or the flu because symptoms such as diaphoresis when accompanied by nausea with stomach pain and chest pain mask the true underlying cause. 
    *I never experienced nausea or stomach distress. 

  • Lightheadedness - A large amount of blood is pumped into your head each heartbeat to keep oxygen flowing to your brain.  If your heart is compromised and not pumping correctly a loss of blood volume into your head will cause you to feel lightheaded, dizzy, or even cause you to black out. 
    *I did not feel lightheaded during my heart attack but did experience it as a symptom a couple of hours before my heart attack started in full. 

  • Numbness in Extremities - Tingling fingers, numb hands or feet, numbness in your wrists or arms. 
    *It was this symptom that actually convinced me that I was experiencing a heart attack. 
If you or anyone around you are experiencing any of the symptoms above - do not hesitate to call 911 or seek assistance from your local medical emergency services.  Do NOT drive yourself to the hospital. 

Most importantly - REMAIN CALM!  Many heart attack victims suffer from elevated stress or a panic attack as they are experiencing their heart attack.  It's hard to not panic because frankly, it's probably the most painful thing you'll ever experience.  It was for me.  Even if you are not in tremendous pain, it is a very scary situation and it's VITAL that you not give into panic or fear.  Focus on something that keeps you calm and keeps you thinking. 

**Panic causes your body to produce adrenaline - which makes your heart beat faster.  If you are experiencing a heart attack, making your heart beat faster may very well cause your heart to fail completely. 

I cannot stress enough - stay calm and stay focused on getting through your ordeal and being alive and healthy when it is over.  Doing this will greatly improve your chances for survival and recovery. 
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