We've all seen it in the movies. The actor suddenly clutches his chest before falling over dead. Instantly, we know he has had a heart attack.
But the truth is that most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain or discomfort rather than being sudden and intense, according to the American Heart Association.
The movies have one thing right, however—chest pain or discomfort can be a sign of a heart attack. It may be a steady pain. On the other hand, it may go away and come back.
"Most people complain of a pressure or a tightness, a squeezing or band-like constriction during a heart attack. It is usually, but not always, in the mid chest and often is described as indigestion in the chest," said Maulik Shah, MD, an independent cardiologist at the HonorHealth Heart and Vascular Institute.
Other symptoms include nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, and discomfort that seems to spread to other parts of the body, typically shoulders, neck, lower jaw and arms.
"Some people get a feeling of inexplicable doom. They know something is wrong, but can't quite say what," said Dr. Shah.
Remember, you may have one or several symptoms and they may come and go.
Act fast. Dial 9-1-1.
Many people don't recognize or want to believe they're having a heart attack so they delay calling 9-1-1 or going to the hospital. That can increase the chances of disability or death.
The American Heart Association notes that calling 9-1-1 is usually the fastest way to get treatment. Emergency medical personnel can begin treatment for heart attacks right away and quickly transport you to the hospital.
Recognizing the vital role of emergency medical personal, HonorHealth has developed strong partnerships with the local fire department and paramedics. When fire department members and paramedics are in the field, they can do an EKG, call the emergency room at HonorHealth, and speak to a physician to coordinate the patient's care.