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The diagnostic challenges

The diagnostic challenges
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Each year, over 57,000 Australians have a heart attack. They typically occur because a blood vessel to the heart is blocked – cholesterol plaque builds up on the vessel walls or a large blood clot creates a plug. When that happens, timing is critical.

“The earlier the symptoms are recognised, the better your outcome,” says director of interventional cardiology Dr Shamir Mehta, over 90 per cent of people who have heart attacks had warning signs in the days, weeks or months beforehand.

But symptoms can be subtle and confounding, which is why the Brock research team has developed the Prodromal Symptoms Screening Scale, a free, web-based questionnaire to help people identify them.

Furthermore, according to recent research led by the Yale School of Public Health, which examined gender differences in almost 3000 people who were hospitalised with heart attacks, women tend to have more varied symptoms than men – not only chest pain but also things like nausea or jaw discomfort. It could be one reason why women are misdiagnosed much more often; in a joint UK-Swedish study in 2016, the rate was 50 per cent higher.

“Women and men also communicate differently,” points out Dr Sharon Mulvagh. “Men often answer in a sentence or two.” Women, on the other hand, may give more detailed descriptions of what they’re feeling, which health-care providers can misinterpret as anxiety.

Women themselves are also almost twice as likely as men to believe their symptoms are due to stress, according to the Yale study. And they may delay attending to them, putting their own needs on the back burner.

“If you feel like something is off and you’re not your normal self, you should seek medical help,” says Cindy Yip of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Listen to your body, because chances are the signs are there, and you can act on them quickly.”

 

Here are 11 heart attack symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.

Here are 11 heart attack symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.
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This symptom, called angina, is caused when your heart is deprived of blood because a coronary artery is clogged. It might come and go with exertion and rest. It’s not usually described as sharp pain – more of a tightness, pressure or heaviness.

One long-standing myth about female heart attacks is that they don’t typically come with chest pain. Researchers now know that some degree of chest discomfort is experienced by 90 per cent of men and women having heart attacks. The Harvard School of Public Health showed that although men are more likely to call it ‘chest pain’ and women are more apt to use words like ‘discomfort’ or ‘pressing’, the sensations they’re feeling are similar.

People with diabetes, on the other hand, who may have nerve damage, are less likely to feel chest pain with a heart attack. “Sometimes all they have is a sense of feeling unwell and having to lie down – but it’s their heart,” says Mehta.

Read on to find out what heart doctors do to protect their own hearts.

Arm pain

Arm pain
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Discomfort in the arm, especially in the left arm, is another common symptom. This is referred pain from the chest area, “Pain fibres are very primitive; the signals can be transmitted to other areas of the body” says Mulvagh.  It’s usually described as a dull ache in the arm, not a shooting pain, as you might have with a pinched nerve, for example. The arm might feel heavy, and the fingers may tingle.

Upper body pain

Upper body pain
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Referred heart attack pain can also sometimes be felt in other parts of the upper body – the neck, radiating across the shoulders or in the upper back. Some people even feel discomfort in the jaw or throat, often just on the left side. Like angina, it may worsen when they’re active and go away when they’re at rest. “Often these patients are investigated by ear, nose and throat doctors and other specialists,” says Mehta. “In fact, this is the way the brain is perceiving that the heart is not getting enough blood.”

Don’t ignore these signs your upper back pain is serious.

Indigestion

Indigestion
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Heart attack symptoms are sometimes described as a burning feeling in the abdomen, which is often assumed to be indigestion. “Young people in particular will confuse it with gastroesophageal reflux and will take antacids to try to settle it down,” says Mehta. Pain can also be felt in the upper abdomen; he’s seen heart attack patients come into Emergency Departments complaining of a stomach ache.

Suffer from heartburn? Try these natural heartburn home remedies.

Sweating

Sweating
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Heavy perspiration, clamminess or a cold sweat is a common symptom of a heart attack, says medical director, Dr Rob Grierson. “If you’re having some sort of discomfort and think it’s heartburn or a pulled muscle, and then all of a sudden, for no reason, you become sweaty, that’s a real red flag.”

The sweating, which is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, can be profuse and isn’t linked to any physical exertion.

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Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath
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If your heart is having difficulty delivering oxygen, it can cause breathlessness, especially when you’re physically active. It’s more likely to be a sign of heart trouble if it’s unusual for you, says Yip, “If you can normally run 10 kilometres without shortness of breath, and all of a sudden you can’t run five, that’s different from someone who doesn’t ever run.”

Running is a great way to keep active, consider these pros and cons before you start.

Fatigue

Fatigue

We all feel tired from time to time if we’re sleep deprived or overworked. But the fatigue linked to a heart attack tends to consume you. “People with this symptom say it’s an overwhelming fatigue or weakness that comes out of the blue,” says Grierson. Exhaustion is less likely to be caused by a heart attack if it’s not accompanied by any other symptoms, like shortness of breath.

But if you’re tiring too easily during exertion – in one survey, some patients said that in the weeks prior to their heart attack, they couldn’t even make a bed without feeling exhausted – it could be one of the earliest signs of trouble.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting
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Many people are surprised to learn that a heart attack can make you feel sick to your stomach. Some people throw up constantly while they’re having a heart attack. But, says Grierson, it’s another one of those symptoms that can be confused with other causes, “You could have someone with the flu coming into the ER feeling crummy and nauseated.” In many cases, a physician can only tell the difference with testing, so it’s important to push for an assessment.

Anxiety

Anxiety
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Fear, panic or a sense of impending doom can actually be a symptom of a heart attack. You’re likely subconsciously sensing changes inside your body, as the sympathetic nervous system is activated and things like blood pressure and heart rate are affected. A real panic attack usually passes in about 20 minutes, says Mulvagh. “With a heart attack, that impending-doom sensation sticks around.”

Here some unexpected things in your home that trigger anxiety.

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