[Updated on February 12, 2018]
How do you know if it’s a heart emergency? Consider the most common signs of cardiovascular danger. Certain symptoms like chest pain are well known; others not so much. When it comes to heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest, being aware of the warnings—so you can respond in time—can make a life-saving difference.
“Time is critical when you’re facing a cardiovascular emergency. These are life-or-death situations,” says Peter Wong, MD, Cardiologist at CarePoint Health. “If you’re not sure about a problem, please see a doctor and get it checked out.”
That’s especially true if you are older than 60 and living with risk factors like being overweight, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. See if you’re at higher risk.
You can’t wait to treat certain problems. Scroll down for a closer look at common symptoms and warning signs that you should call 911 and get to an emergency room fast.
Heart attack warning signs
Some are sudden and intense. Most start slowly with mild pain. Warning signs that blood flow to the heart is blocked commonly include:
- Chest discomfort. Pain, uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes or that goes away and returns.
- Upper body discomfort . Such as pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath. With or without chest discomfort
- Other signs. Such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
- Women take note: chest discomfort is the most common warning for women, as it is for men. But women experience other symptoms slightly more than men, including: shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, pain in the jaw, neck, back or arm. Some women also experience unusual fatigue for several days, or have anxiety or sleep disturbances. Learn more.
Download and print the Heart Attack Warning Signs inforgraphic from Carepoint here:
Stroke warning signs
The indicators of a clogged or burst blood vessel leading to the brain (also called a “brain attack”) tend to appear suddenly:
- numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- confusion, or trouble speaking or understanding
- trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- severe headache with no known cause
If you can, note the time when the first symptom(s) appeared. If given within 3 to 4.5 hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug may improve the chances of getting better faster.
Here’s a way to remember how to spot a stroke. If you notice one of these symptoms, call an ambulance or get to the emergency room.
Face: does it look uneven or droop on one side?
Arms: does one arm drift down when lifted up?
Speech: does the person sound strange, slur or garble speech, or can’t talk?
Time to call 9-1-1 if you observe any of these signs.
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)
Some of the common warning signs that the heart malfunctioned and stopped beating:
- unresponsive or unconscious
- lack of breathing
- turning blue
- no pulse
- eyes rolling back into head
When the heart stops beating (arrests), blood stops flowing to the brain and organs. Without treatment, death can occur in eight to 10 minutes. That’s why it’s vital to get help, then start CPR and if possible use an automated external defibrillator (AED), which delivers an electrical shock to restore heartbeat.
If you suspect any symptoms a heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest, get an ambulance or to the hospital fast. Often people wait too long. In a life-or-death emergency, every second counts. As much as many of us want to assume that a potential problem can be ignored, it’s always safer to be seen by a heart expert—and be sure you or loved one is all right.
Learn about Emergency Care in Hudson County.
Put your heart to the test
Here are some easy steps you can take to put your heart to the test:
- Know your personal heart numbers. They’re easy to get. They can help you live better. And it may just save your life.
- See more heart health topics
- Free risk assessment: coronary artery disease
February is Heart Month
It’s the perfect time to schedule a visit with a doctor, assess your health and take active steps to feel your best.