Red hearts are everywhere in February, not only for Valentine’s Day but also because it’s American Heart Month, a great time to focus on your heart and, with the help of your primary care provider, to educate yourself about cardiovascular health and disease.
Important things to consider regarding your heart: Are you eating a heart-healthy diet, which includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat proteins? Are you getting enough exercise, ideally 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity a day, at least five times a week? Do you know the difference between the symptoms of heartburn or anxiety and a heart attack?
All good questions. Even small changes in diet and exercise can improve your heart health. And knowing the symptoms of a heart attack can save your or someone else’s life.
That tightening in the chest
Heart attacks can come on suddenly, but many are slow to appear, often only presenting mild discomfort that is easy to dispel as something minor, like heartburn or anxiety. How does one tell the difference?
The chest pain during a heart attack can feel like a tightness and can spread to your arms, your neck, jaw and back. According to the American Heart Association, this chest pain can feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness.
Heartburn, on the other hand, usually involves a burning sensation in the chest and generally presents after having eaten, or if you lie down too soon after eating. During a bout of heartburn, stomach acid wells up beyond the stomach flap into the esophagus and burns the esophageal lining. It usually disappears if antacids are taken.
Anxiety usually involves emotional symptoms, such as nervousness, tenseness, having a sense of panic or doom, or having trouble concentrating on anything but your worries. Physical symptoms can be a tightening of the chest and an increased heart rate. Deep breathing can alleviate these symptoms as can focusing on a calming activity, such as reading or meditation, to take the mind off what is triggering the anxiety.
Other heart attack symptoms
Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack can help you or a loved one determine what you’re experiencing. In addition to chest discomfort or pain, or if that chest pain spreads to your arms, neck, jaw or back, heart attack symptoms might include:
- Feeling weak, light-headed or faint; breaking out into a cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
- For women, unusual tiredness and nausea or vomiting
Call 911 immediately if you or someone else is experiencing any of these symptoms, even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack. Coquille Valley Hospital’s emergency services are available 24-7, and we have the expertise to diagnose and treat you accordingly. It’s always better to call 911, so that you can be treated as soon as medical personal arrives, rather than having someone else drive you or trying to drive yourself to the hospital. Always call 911 before calling anyone else.
Treatment of a heart attack
Depending on the cause of the heart attack, you may undergo heart surgery and/or take medications. You also may need to adopt lifestyle changes, whether it’s to quit smoking, change your diet, improve your exercise habits over time or all of the above.
Surgeries can range from minimally invasive procedures to bypass surgery, ablation or angioplasty. Common medications your doctor may recommend include beta blockers, anti-coagulants, cholesterol-lowering medications or diuretics to help the body get rid of excess water. To learn more about available treatments following a heart attack, visit the American Heart Association.
American Heart Month is an opportunity for everyone to check in with their primary healthcare provider and make an appointment to have your bloodwork updated. Your blood can provide clues about your heart’s health, including cholesterol levels and other substances that will indicate your risk of heart disease. Make an appointment with your provider today.