Spot the heart attack

The traditional image of a typical heart attack is a middle-aged man, clutching his chest in pain and keeling over.

But the symptoms can be less obvious, experts warn.

Dr. Yvonne T. Johnson, a specialist in emergency medicine with Baptist Health International Services, said there are several warning signs to show a person is suffering a heart attack – and it’s not just older men who fall victim.

“The symptoms of a heart attack can be subtle – particularly in women. Sometimes they have abdominal pain and think it is indigestion. Other times they experience profound fatigue, nausea, sweating or shortness of breath,” Dr. Johnson said.

“Back pain is also common. There are many symptoms associated with a heart attack, not just chest pain,” she said.

The most common signs of a heart attack, besides chest pain, pressure or a feeling of heaviness in the chest, are shortness of breath, profuse sweating, nausea and pain that radiates to the arms.

“Typically, people think it affects the left arm, but it can be both arms. The pain can also travel up to the jaw,” Dr. Johnson added. “People often describe it as if their teeth are hurting in both sides of the jaw. And it can travel to the back, too.”

She warned also about a particular risk for diabetics.

“Some people have what we call silent heart attacks, where they don’t have a lot of chest pain,” she said. “Diabetics are the group most at risk for this type, and, in the Islands, diabetes is very common.”

While fatigue, nausea, sweating or shortness of breath are signs of a heart attack, “the most common thing for everybody is chest pain”, the doctor said.