Heart attack symptoms: The signs that may appear months before the deadly episode
Heart attacks are triggered when there’s a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. Without enough blood and oxygen your heart can be seriously damaged so an immediate response is required. Most people characterise the stages of a heart attack as a tight pain in the chest area that spreads to your arms and stomach.
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This is not inaccurate – although pain levels can vary greatly – but what is often overlooked are the warning signs you may experience months in advance.
According to Dr Iqbal Malik, Consultant Cardiologist at OneWelbeck, When heart symptoms first start, they can be mild – you might feel a bit of breathlessness on exertion, chest tightness, indigestion, or even just a reduction in exercise tolerance.
“They come on when you push yourself, and disappear at rest,” said Dr Malik.
They can also get progressively worse in the next few weeks, he said.
The trouble, as Dr Malik points out, is that the body is not wired to say it is “heart” or “lungs” or “stomach”, so symptoms can overlap.
“Then suddenly it happens at rest – and that is the heart attack,” he warns.
Why do some symptoms appear months in advance?
Dr Malik explains: “The process in the coronary (heart) artery is that debris (grit made up of fat and scar – or atheroma build up slowly.
“Then a change occurs and a crack in this material can appear – that is healed up with a small clot.”
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He continues: “That makes the artery that bit narrower – making the symptoms a bit worse – but not blocking the artery and causing a heart attack.
“This process repeats itself and the artery gets narrower and narrower.
“If the clot is too large, and blocks the blood vessel suddenly, that is a heart attack.”
What should I do if I spot the early warning signs?
According to Dr Malik, if you are under 30, it is very unlikely this is a heart attack.
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If you are over 50, however, and have underlying conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure, overweight, strong family history, high cholesterol) then take it seriously and get checked out, he said.
“If symptoms last for over 15 minutes, and are not relieved by rest, then please call 999,” warned Dr Malik.
Does Dr Malik have any specific advice for how to respond amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Remember, the hospital can handle your care, and don’t be too worried about catching COVID-19,” he said.
He added: “The heart attack is much more serious than the risk of catching that disease.”
General tips to reduce your risk of having a heart attack
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).
According to the NHS, There are three main steps you can take to help prevent a heart attack (as well as stroke).
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Do not smoke
- Try to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level
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