When seconds count: How to recognize a heart attack or stroke

A heart attack is a matter of life and death. Without quick medical help, many attacks are fatal. But would you be able to recognize a heart attack in real life? Because it’s not just Hollywood-style chest pain. And it strikes large numbers of both men and women.

Everybody’s seen that scene in the movies where a heart attack victim (almost always a man) grabs his chest and collapses. But aside from severe chest discomfort, many other symptoms and signs of heart attack can arise that you may miss. These problems can indicate the heart under siege:

  • Upper abdominal pain or upper back pain, especially prevalent in women.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness.
  • Left shoulder pain or numbness; aching down left arm or into jaw.
  • Chest heaviness, tightness, squeezing, burning, pressure or discomfort.
  • Palpitations of the heart — beating fast or irregularly.
  • Tight throat or a lump in the throat.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Nausea.
  • Sense of impending doom.
  • Weakness.
  • Symptoms begin with low intensity and increase over several minutes.
  • Taking a deep breath, pressing on the chest or moving the part of the body where symptoms are occuring do not make the pain worse.

When A Stroke Strikes

Stroke signs and symptoms usually come on quite rapidly — within seconds to minutes. Damaged tissues in the brain correspond with problems in the section of the body controlled by that part of the brain. The signs and symptoms can vary widely. Watch for these signs:

  • Hemiplegia — part or all of one side of the face or body goes weak.
  • Numbness or vibratory sense loss.
  • Altered smell, taste, hearing or eyesight.
  • Facial muscle drooping or weakness, including the muscles that move the eyes.
  • Weakened swallowing function.
  • Weak neck muscles or tongue muscles.
  • Balance abnormalities; trouble walking or dizziness.
  • Altered breathing or heart rate.
  • Inability to talk or comprehend language — aphasia.
  • Loss of memory; confused thinking patterns.

Widespread Danger

Americans suffer more than a million heart attacks a year and almost half of all those heart attacks cause death. Another 800,000 people annually have strokes and 150,000 of those people die. These problems are nothing to take lightly.

Be sure to consider these signs and symptoms carefully. One of the best ways to prevent irreparable damage to the heart and brain is to recognize the signs of stroke and heart attack, and immediately seek medical help. The earlier the detection, the better the chances of survival.

Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.