5 symptoms of an impending heart attack that you may not know about

5 symptoms of an impending heart attack that you may not know about

A heart attack is no longer a worry of an old age. Here are 5 symptoms that may happen weeks in advance, helping you prevent it.

If you think that a heart attack can affect only old people, you are wrong. In 2012 alone, more than 450 cases of Myocardial Infarction (MI) in Singaporeans less than the age of 45 were reported. While it might not seem like a big number in the whole scheme of things, it shows that there is a chance, albeit slim, that a young adult can get a heart attack. 

Luckily, in many cases, MI is accompanied by a prodrome - symptoms that precede the attack by days or even weeks. If caught well in advance, steps could be taken to prevent or delay the heart attack. 

But, before we go any further, let us know what a heart attack really is.

Myocardial Infarction

The heart is responsible for pumping blood. It keeps the body alive and active by providing nutrients and gases and removing the wastes from the body. The myocardium or the middle layer of the heart tissue is made up of muscle that helps the heart in pumping blood.

A Myocardial Infarction or a heart attack is necrosis (death) of a part of the heart muscle. It is irreversible. The more the damage, the greater is the compromise of the heart tissue. 

Being an organ, even the heart requires blood to function properly. There are small arteries, called as the coronary arteries that supply blood to the pumping heart. The reason why an MI happens is, ironically, a lack of supply of blood to the heart. In 90% of the cases, this happens when one or more of these coronary arteries are severely blocked - a condition known as atherosclerosis. 

Due to various reasons discussed later, there is deposition of lipids inside these coronary arteries, making it difficult for the blood to pass. At times, a small part of it breaks, flows with the circulation, and ends up blocking an already narrow artery. This causes a total lack of blood supply and the small part of heart muscle supplied by that artery dies. 

The non-avoidable causes of atherosclerosis are

  • Advanced age
  • Family history of premature coronary heart disease
  • Male-pattern baldness

However, there are many factors that can be modified, or avoided by adopting a healthy lifestyle and/or management of conditions. These include

  • Smoking or other tobacco use
  • Hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia, including inherited lipoprotein disorders
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity (abdominal obesity)
  • Psychosocial stress
  • Sedentary lifestyle and/or lack of exercise
  • Reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Type A personality

If you have a family history of CHD or suffer from a heart condition, you need to be vigilant about the symptoms of Myocardial Infarction.

How to spot an impending heart attack

We all know that the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. So, if there is a diffuse pain behind the breastbone, spreading towards the left side of the body, don't take a chance and call an ambulance. However, there are symptoms that you can spot much earlier. 

You have to remember that not every MI is accompanied by severe pain. A study aimed at finding the prodrome of Myocardial Infarction in women was conducted by the University of Arkansas. According to the study, 43% of women reported no chest discomfort before a heart attack. In many cases, the symptoms were atypical. Here are the 5 symptoms highlighted in the study that might not seem serious but should not be ignored. 

  1. Unusual fatigue. In 70% of women, unusual fatigue was observed in the few weeks preceding a heart attack. If you find it difficult to get out of bed without being able to guess the reason, you should watch out for more symptoms.
  2. Sleep disturbance. It was experienced by 48% women. So, if you find it difficult to initiate sleep of if your sleep pattern gets irregular suddenly, you should not ignore it.
  3. Shortness of breath. A feeling of breathlessness following daily activities was experienced by 42% of women in the study. In normal circumstances, it may happen if you don't sleep well or are down with a fever. If this happens persistently without any apparent reason, don't ignore it. 
  4. Indigestion. 39% women experienced indigestion. This also includes the feeling of heartburn. If this happens regularly along with other symptoms, do get yourself checked.
  5. Anxiety. 35% of women experienced anxiety, a feeling of restlessness without any major reason. Parents are an anxious lot. However, if you know that the anxiety is baseless, don't ignore it.

After you turn 40, it is a good idea to get yourself checked every year. For the sake of your children, eat healthily, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and drink only occasionally. 

Also, read “Our Kawasaki Disease scare”: A Singaporean Mum’s Story



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Written by

Anay Bhalerao

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