Heart attacks are a medical emergency whereby the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life-threatening. This destructive mechanism can be signalled by acute bodily changes.
One distinctive warning sign is feeling or being sick, according to the NHS.
Other symptoms include:
- Chest pain – a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest
- Pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm is affected, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy (abdomen)
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- An overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)
- Coughing or wheezing.
It is important to note that chest pain levels vary from person to person.
“For some people, the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion,” explains the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
As the BHF explains, heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly.
In fact, it’s the combination of symptoms that’s important in determining whether a person is having a heart attack and not the severity of chest pain, adds the NHS.
How to respond
“While waiting for an ambulance, it may help to chew and then swallow a tablet of aspirin (ideally 300mg), as long as the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin,” advises the health body.
Aspirin helps to thin the blood and improves blood flow to the heart.
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How to prevent having one in the first place
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to stave off the threat of having a heart attack.
Eating a heart-healthy diet is integral to this effort because it supplies the body with all the nutrients it needs.
As the American Heart Association (AHA) explains, nutrient-rich foods have minerals, protein, whole grains and other nutrients but are lower in calories.
They may help you control your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure – heart attack precursors, the AHA says.
According to the health body, you should eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasises:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils.
“Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages,” it adds.
Many of these components can be found in the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
According to the Mayo Clinic, the DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
“By following the DASH diet, you may be able to reduce your blood pressure by a few points in just two weeks,” it says.
The DASH diet emphasises vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods — and moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts.
In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise is required to keep the threat of having a heart attack at bay.
“Being active and doing regular exercise will lower your blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good condition,” explains the health body.
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