This Is the Early Heart Attack Symptom That’s Missed the Most Often, According to Cardiologists
Leigh Weingus – May 31, 2023
When you think of a person having a heart attack, you most likely picture them falling to the floor clutching their chest. Because of this, many people don’t realize that there are a handful of other symptoms associated with heart attacks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. Because of this, not knowing all the signs is particularly dangerous.
With that in mind, Parade spoke with cardiologists to find out what the most commonly missed early heart attack symptom is—and other top symptoms to watch out for.
The Most Commonly-Missed Early Heart Attack Symptom
According to Dr. Estelle Jean, MD, a cardiologist with MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, the most commonly missed heart attack symptom is shortness of breath. Because shortness of breath can be attributed to many things, if it’s occurring without chest pain, people don’t tend to think it means they’re having a heart attack. “Shortness of breath is a commonly missed early symptom of a heart attack, and it can occur with or without chest discomfort,” she explains.
Dr. Max Brock, MD, a cardiologist at Cook, echoes this. “Trouble breathing, or ‘dyspnea’ in medical lingo, can be caused by many things, but sometimes it is the only sign of a heart attack for some patients,” he says.
Other Commonly-Missed Heart Attack Symptoms
Dr. Brock says you should also watch out for chest pressure, even if it isn’t accompanied by pain. “As many people are aware, chest discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, but people tend to think that has to mean pain specifically where your heart is, on the left side of your chest,” he says. “Chest pressure, a crushing sensation or tightness in the chest, and upper abdominal pain are also some of the many ways patients describe their heart attack. Do not wait around for left-sided chest pain!”
Dr. Jean adds that other heart attack symptoms include pain in the shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, back and stomach. “People may also experience nausea or vomiting, heartburn, dizziness, sweating, palpitations and fatigue when having a heart attack.”
How To Prevent a Heart Attack
While it’s important to take as many preventative measures as possible, Dr. Jean says understanding the signs of a heart attack is crucial. “Know the signs of a heart attack and don’t ignore your symptoms. The chances for surviving a heart attack depend on receiving immediate and timely care,” she explains, adding that 80 percent of heart attacks can be prevented by taking healthy lifestyle measures. “This includes maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, sleeping seven to nine hours at night and managing your stress,” she says. “And don’t forget to schedule a visit with your healthcare provider to assess your risk for heart disease, and to learn about your personal health numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar).”
Dr. Brock emphasizes the importance of movement. “Staying active is so important for your heart, as it is for many of your other organs,” he explains. “You don’t need to go out and sprint or bike long distances. Moderate exercise is sufficient—and when I say moderate, I tell my patients this is the type of exertion where it is harder to hold a long conversation with your exercise partner, but you are still able to talk in shorter sentences. It’s the type of exercise where you break into a sweat by the end!”
While heart disease is scary, there’s a lot you can do to prevent it—and catch it early enough to not put your life at risk.