Christian Medical Blog
Just over 700,000 people have heart attacks every year. But when you ask people for a list of heart attack symptoms, rarely do they reply with more than the traditional answers. The most classic answers fall in line with your run-of-the-mill “television” heart attack.
Typical Heart Attack
But not every heart attack is like this! I have seen and taken care of so many people who waited (or almost) waited too late to come in to see me. They all had one thing in common. They didn’t think they were having a heart attack!
Why is that? Well, some of them were clearly in denial. They didn’t want to have a heart attack, so they decided they weren’t...even though they were. The other reason is that their symptoms were not typical.
Dorothy’s story is a good example. She thought she was having indigestion, but she was really having angina (heart pain). I hope you check it out, especially if you’re having indigestion!
To help you and others avoid waiting too late, I’ve collected a list of heart attack symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore.
Right-Sided Chest Pain
That’s RIGHT. Heart pain can show up as right-sided chest pain that radiates down the right arm. This presentation is quite common in women and diabetics for reasons not clearly understood. Ironically, the patient that comes to mind is a 60 year old farmer. He really played his symptoms down quite well. I’m not even sure he was the one that brought up his chest pain. He had exertional right-sided chest pain. That was his only symptom! At any rate he fought me tooth and nail on getting a stress test.The next week he was in the catheterization lab and multiple blockages were found.
Heart pain is not always crushing. Sometimes it is burning, and the burning feeling is what confuses people. Sometimes it confuses doctors too. It was not unheard of in the olden days for a doctor to list the cause of death for a loved one as “acute indigestion.” Especially worrisome is the indigestion that is exertional. “Everytime I do so-and-so I get indigestion.” Unless your “so-and-so” is eating spicy food, then I think you should get checked out. It may be nothing, but it may be something!
A patient of mine almost talked me out of an EKG once. She was only in my office because her daughter made her come. Her pain was right-sided and it happened just after she moved some furniture. She was convinced that she had pulled a muscle. After all, she had a normal stress test a few months before! That’s a topic for another day but don’t place too much emphasis on a single test. The stress test was falsely-negative. She had experienced a heart attack because of the exertion caused by moving the furniture. After I transferred her to her heart doctor in a bigger city, she had another heart attack later that night. The next day she underwent a bypass and is now doing much better!
Most people don’t think about abdominal pain as a possible heart problem, because it usually isn’t. However, if you have belly pain (especially upper belly pain) and all the routine tests are normal then maybe you should bring up the possibility of a heart problem to your doctor. If you have risk factors for heart problems (and your story is compelling) then you may benefit from heart testing.
Shortness of Breath
When you have a heart attack, your heart function usually decreases some. When your heart doesn’t work correctly, the blood doesn’t move through your lungs as well as it should. This causes shortness of breath. One of my patients was convinced that he was suffering from bronchitis because he had been very short of breath for a few days. When I examined him it was clear that more was going on than met the eye. He was an older gentleman, a fine man, and I had to do some fancy talking just to convince him that he needed to be in the hospital. Further testing confirmed that just prior to the onset of his shortness of breath he had experienced a heart attack. The heart attack caused severe heart failure by the time he came to see me in clinic.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are usually complementing symptoms of heart pain. This means that most of the time if your nausea and vomiting is due to heart pain then you will likely have at least one other symptom. So if you have some of the typical or atypical symptoms above as well as nausea and vomiting, then you need to take it more seriously.
Why are these symptoms so important?
Because I don’t want you to be one of the ones who waits too late. I want you to get regular exams by your doctor and have a good relationship with him or her. Anytime you are worried about your heart you should go get checked out. Do not explain away your symptoms, especially when they happen with exertion and when they happen frequently. Often times these “little” pains are your only hints at a deeper and more serious problem.
Prudence may be your only chance to get that deeper problem fixed before you have a heart attack!
DISCLAIMER: This blog is for fun only and none of the information in the posts or links are meant in anyway to constitute medical advice from anyone or for anyone. No material or interactions that occur on this website are meant to establish or continue a doctor-patient relationship under any circumstances. Everyone is different and there is never, ever a single answer that is always the same for everyone. If you need medical advice for a problem you have, go see your doctor and talk it over! If you are experiencing an emergency, seek emergency care as soon as possible.
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