When my over-age 50 male patients come to visit for a check up or health concern, I ask them if they know the symptoms of a heart attack. Most all of them answer “chest pain” but very few know any of the other symptoms of heart attack. That’s why I’d like to talk to you about the symptoms of a man’s heart attack, i.e., those signs that are almost always common to men, and a few that aren’t commonly recognized as a heart attack, in the hopes that it will save your life, or that of a male friend or relative.
Heart Attack More Than Chest Pain
Many men experience the common chest pain/heartburn sensation and shortness of breath at the onset of a heart attack. But prior to those symptoms starting, they may have been feeling the following “prodrome” of other symptoms for a few days:
- Extreme tiredness, wiped out feeling, like that which accompanies the flu. Many heart attacks have been mistaken for the onset of the flu, especially if it is flu season.
- Nausea. Often times, when the heart is in spasm it can cause nausea in the stomach which may/may not lead to vomiting.
- Lightheadedness. A symptom associated with not enough blood getting to the brain.
- Neck or upper arm pain. Also can occur from blocked heart arteries. This type of pain may often be attributed to muscle strain or injury and is overlooked as a heart symptom.
Some of my male patients who have had a heart attack refer back to feeling unusually “crummy” a few days before the actual heart attack occurred. It reminds me of the story of my former dentist who had called in sick to work thinking he had a “bad flu” coming on with nausea and vomiting. It, unfortunately, turned out that he was actually in the process of having a heart attack, which became fatal, as he did not seek help. Had these men had their unusual symptoms checked out by their doctor, or urgent care, they may have prevented a full blown heart attack and/or cardiac arrest/death from occurring.
For those reasons, it’s important to note that not every man has the “classic” heart attack symptoms that you often see depicted in movies and television – clutching at the chest, dramatic pain, trouble breathing, then keeling over to the ground. With that picture in mind, you may easily dismiss a persistent throbbing twinge in your jaw, or soreness in your left upper arm, as nothing to be concerned about.
Some men, especially in diabetes, can have what’s called a “silent” heart attack where there are very little to no symptoms, or symptoms such as those noted above that were attributed to other things. Only an EKG done later will reveal that a heart attack actually occurred.
What Can You Do?
What can you do if you start feeling poorly but don’t have any particular pain, etc?
Of course, you don’t want to be running to your doctor, or the ER, every time you have a twinge in your arm or your neck that truly might be a muscle strain, especially if you’ve experienced them before. Or, if you may really have a stomach flu bug it won’t hurt to have that checked out either.
However, minor symptoms that start small and seem to worsen are worth getting checked out, whatever their cause. If you call your doctor’s office with these symptoms, or report them to an urgent care professional, an EKG, possibly blood work, can be done to determine if there is a cardiac cause for your symptoms. If there is a heart attack in progress, you can be transported by EMS to the ER for treatment.
If you, or someone else, appear to be having the more pronounced, classic symptoms of heart attack like chest pain, shortness of breath, sharp pain in the left upper extremity, here’s what you need to do:
- CALL 9-1-1 immediately! They can administer oxygen and medications that will keep you stable until you can be treated in the ER.
- Don’t attempt to drive yourself to an ER unless there are no emergency medical services available where you are. Better, get someone else to drive you to the nearest hospital ER.
- Take two (2), 325 mg pure aspirin tablets immediately. Aspirin helps break up blood clots and can prevent further damage until you get to the ER.
- Sit up; don’t lie down, while waiting for EMS to arrive. Contrary to most advice found, sitting up can actually help shortness of breath, make you more comfortable and help to slow down a heart attack.
- If symptoms have progressed to unconsciousness, cardiac arrest may be in progress and the person may need CPR performed. If there is an AED device nearby, it may need to be used.
No matter what type of symptoms, major or minor, you, or someone you know, may experience with a heart attack, they can all lead to the same thing, heart/brain damage or loss of life. Don’t second guess minor, but persistent, symptoms that seem to be growing worse or try to “ride out” major symptoms for more than 5 minutes seeing if they might pass. Getting treatment in time is crucial to the future health of your heart, brain and your life!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Men, http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/his-guide-to-a-heart-attack
Lying Down With Heart Attack, http://www.heart-problems.net/angina_cordis/Do_not_lie_down_when_certain_angina_cordis_attacks_109.html