What's the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
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Popular depictions of heart attacks often involve searing chest pain but the reality can be quite different. “The pain you experience from a heart attack may be much less dramatic — and it may not even be very painful at all,” explains health body Penn Medicine. If you don’t have the telltale sign of sudden chest pain that everyone is taught to recognise, this is called a “silent” heart attack.
Three telltale signs of a silent heart attack can surface when waking up.
“Waking up in a cold sweat, feeling nauseated, and vomiting may be symptoms of the flu, but they can also be signs of a silent heart attack,” warns Penn Medicine.
The health body continues: “You may know what the flu feels like because you’ve had one before, but when your gut is telling you that these flu-like symptoms are something more serious, listen.
“Don’t chalk these symptoms up to the flu, stress, or simply feeling under the weather — they may be much more serious than that.”
General signs to spot
Heart attack symptoms can vary but the most common signs of a heart attack are:
- Chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or heaviness in your chest. It can feel like indigestion or a burning sensation
- Pain that may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
- According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), pain levels can also vary from person to person.
“For some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion.”
These symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly, notes the BHF.
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How to respond to a heart attack
According to the NHS, the first thing you must do is dial 999 immediately for an ambulance.
Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, it’s really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible.
“If you have had a heart attack, it’s important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart,” explains the NHS.
If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance, advises the health body.
Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.
How to reduce your risk
Prevention is always better than a cure and there are simple steps you can take to ward off a heart attack.
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).
One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking or using smokeless tobacco.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Chemicals in tobacco can damage the heart and blood vessels. Cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in the blood, which increases blood pressure and heart rate because the heart has to work harder to supply enough oxygen to the body and brain.”
Regular, daily physical activity can lower the risk of having a heart attack, says the health body.
Finally, “a healthy diet can help protect the heart, improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes”.
A heart-healthy eating plan includes:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Beans or other legumes
- Lean meats and fish
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil.
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