Heart health is important regardless of your age, but risk can increase as you grow older. It is important to understand what you can do to avoid heart disease as well as understand the signs of a heart attack.
Learn to recognize a heart attack
If you ask about the symptoms of a heart attack, most people think of chest pain. But symptoms may show up in different ways and can depend on a number of factors, such as whether you’re a man or a woman, what type of heart disease you have, and how old you are.
It’s important to dig a little deeper to understand the variety of symptoms that may indicate a heart attack. Uncovering more information can help you learn when to help yourself and your loved ones. If you have a family history of heart disease or a history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or other risk factors, your chances of having a heart attack are even higher.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:
- Standard chest pain/pressure that feels like “an elephant” is sitting on your chest, with a squeezing sensation that may come and go or remain constant and intense
- Upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck jaw, or stomach
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
- Shortness of breath, which may leave your feeling like you can’t get enough air, even when you’re resting
- Dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
Symptoms of a heart attack in women include:
- Unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion of gas-like pain
- Upper back, shoulder, or throat pain
- Jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
- Pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm
It’s important to remember, however, that each heart attack is different. Your symptoms may not fit this cookie-cutter description. Trust your instincts if you think something is wrong. Scroll down to read definitions of cardiovascular disease.
Each year, staff around Eskaton promote heart health by observing Wear Red Day. Learn more at the American Heart Association.
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Cardiovascular disease has conditions that affect the structures or function of your heart. Learn about the most common conditions below.
Heart and blood vessel disease (also called heart disease) includes numerous problems, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can block the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die. Most people survive their first heart attack and return to their normal lives, enjoying many more years of productive activity. But experiencing a heart attack does mean that you need to make some changes. The medications and lifestyle changes that your doctor recommends may vary according to how badly your heart was damaged, and to what degree of heart disease caused the heart attack.
An ischemic stroke (the most common type of stroke) occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked, usually from a blood clot. When the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off, some brain cells will begin to die. This can result in the loss of functions controlled by that part of the brain, such as walking or talking.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel within the brain bursts. This is most often caused by uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure). Some effects of stroke are permanent if too many brain cells die after being starved of oxygen. These cells are never replaced. The good news is that sometimes brain cells don’t die during a stroke — instead, the damage is temporary. Over time, as injured cells repair themselves, previously impaired function improves. (In other cases, undamaged brain cells nearby may take over for the areas of the brain that were injured.)
Heart failure, sometimes called congestive heart failure, means the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. Heart failure does not mean that the heart stops beating — that’s a common misconception. Instead, the heart keeps working, but the body’s need for blood and oxygen isn’t being met.