UAB Medicine News


4 Signs of a Heart Attack

Knowing these four signs can save your life—or the life of someone else. Watch our short video; then read on for more interesting heart attack facts from Jose Tallaj, MD, medical director of the UAB Heart Transplant Program.

Time is Muscle
"Intervening on a myocardial infarction (heart attack) can prevent death, and we also say "time is muscle," Dr. Tallaj says. "The longer it takes to fix a blockage, the more damage you will have down the line. The damage can be immediate, for example if the patient develops arrhythmia or goes into shock and dies, or it can be long term, for example if someone develops heart failure."

Different Symptoms for Different Patients
It's also important to note that heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. "Men usually experience the typical symptoms: pressure radiating through the shoulder, jaw, and down the left arm," Dr. Tallaj says. "Women, however, might have a more atypical presentation: their pain might be on the right side versus the left, or they might experience back or jaw pain only."

Patients with diabetes also experience different symptoms. "Because diabetes affects the nerves, patients with the disease might have heart attack symptoms—shortness of breath, feeling faint, breaking out in a sweat—without the associated pain in the chest, shoulder, and down the arm," Tallaj says."

Anatomy of a Heart Attack
"A heart attack means that an area of the heart is not getting enough blood flow, indicating that the heart muscle begins to die, and this is what causes the pain," Dr. Tallaj says. "To treat the condition, we restore the circulation to that vessel with either medication or a procedure like angioplasty or placing a stent to keep the artery open, to prevent long-term damage."   

Call 911
If you experience heart attack symptoms or see someone who is, call 911 immediately. If you have aspirin on hand, take it, says Dr. Tallaj.

Make an Appointment 
If heart attacks—or heart disease—run in your family, make an appointment with UAB. "Patients with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or family history of coronary disease are at a greater risk for a heart attack," Dr. Tallaj says. "For family history, we mean a first degree relative—either a sibling or a parent who had coronary disease at an early age: less than 50 in men and less than 60 in women." To make an appointment at UAB, call 800-UAB-8816 (800-822-8816).  

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