Heart attacks don’t always cause chest pain. Here’s what you need to know and do to protect yourself in an emergency.
While severe chest pain, or feelings of pressure or tightness in the chest, may be the classic hallmarks of heart attack, if you’re a woman or have diabetes, you’re less likely than others to experience these symptoms. In fact, one-third of all people with heart attacks report no chest pain at all. If you’re diabetic, follow these two steps for safety:
1. Learn atypical heart attack symptoms
- shortness of breath
- nausea and vomiting
- excessive sweating
- palpitations (feelings of skipped heartbeats)
- lightheadedness and fainting
Sudden pain in other areas of the upper body, such as the back, arm, neck, jaw or stomach, may also signify a heart attack.
2. Take action if you have heart attack symptoms
Call 911 if you have chest pain or atypical symptoms that last longer than 10 minutes. After calling, chew and swallow a noncoated adult aspirin. It helps inhibit blood clot formation—chewing or crushing the tablet allows it to enter your bloodstream faster. Unlock the front door if you can, while you wait for the ambulance. Sit or lie on the floor nearby to make it easier for the paramedics to get to you. If 911 isn’t available, have someone drive you to the hospital—never drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other choice.
Angina or Heart Attack?
If you have been diagnosed with angina—a narrowing of one or more coronary arteries that reduces blood flow to the heart—you may experience pressure beneath the breastbone or chest pain that worsens predictably with exercise. Note that some people have atypical symptoms with angina. Take emergency measures if chest pain comes on at rest and lasts for more than 20 minutes, increases in intensity, or occurs with less exertion than in the past.
From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus (Summer 2012)