When identifying signs and symptoms of a heart attack, the most classic ones are chest pain and pressure, often described as the feeling of having an elephant on one’s chest. However, there are several more subtle and uncommon signs of heart attack, which are more prevalent in women, and may be dismissed by the subject as something less consequential than a heart attack. These include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, sweating, rapid or irregular heart rate, pain in the jaw, neck or arm, and shortness of air. These may occur for weeks in some individuals before they seek treatment.

If you suspect that you or a loved one are experiencing a heart attack, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately, as the longer a heart attack is left untreated, the greater the long-term damage will be. Calling 911 is preferable to driving oneself to the hospital, because emergency medical technicians are trained to initiate interventions (such as medications) en route to the hospital, and to respond appropriately to any change in condition the patient may experience along the way. Many ambulances are also equipped to transmit an EKG to the receiving hospital and notify the emergency department of their pending arrival.

Factors that increase one’s risk of having a heart attack include a family history of heart disease, a sedentary lifestyle, prolonged or chronic stress, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol or lipids. Many of these can be controlled with lifestyle modifications, such as regular exercise, dietary changes and stress reduction. Medications to lower blood pressure, cholesterol or lipids may also be warranted in some individuals. Speak with your primary care provider about your individual risk and what you can do personally to lower your chances of developing heart disease.

Certain chemotherapy drugs can impact heart health, so it is important to know if you have received one or more of these drugs in your cancer treatment. I will discuss that in my next blog post.

Guest post by Cyra-Lea Drummond, RN, BSN

Cyra-Lea Drummond is a registered nurse with 15 years experience in nursing, including telemetry, cardiac ICU, cardiac rehab, and home health. She currently lives near Louisville, KY and enjoys spending her free time playing outside with her husband, son, and their dog Daisy. 

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