University Hospitals

Recognizing the Signs of a Heart Attack can Save a Life


Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States for men and women. Each year, more than a million Americans suffer a heart attack, and many die before they reach a hospital.

The heart specialists at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute located at UH Geauga Medical Center provide lifesaving heart attack treatment. We use advanced techniques to relieve pain, preserve the function of the heart muscle and prevent death.

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when one or more regions of the heart muscle face a severe or prolonged lack of oxygen. Blocked blood flow to the heart muscle is the cause of this oxygen deprivation. Without oxygen, the cells of the heart experience serious damage and begin to die.

Learn Early Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms

Like other diseases, heart attacks often have early signs and symptoms. If recognized in time, these warning signs can be treated before the heart is damaged. Learning the heart attack signs and symptoms can help you save a life – even your own.

Over 800,000 people die in the U.S. every year from a heart attack. On average, 50 percent of these patients displayed but ignored the warning signs. A person may experience some or all of these symptoms. When symptoms start, they can be mild or come and go. Over time, the symptoms and pain increase until the victim collapses. These symptoms include:

  • Chest pressure, squeezing, aching or burning
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Pain that travels down one or both arms
  • Jaw pain
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Rapid or irregular pulse
  • Unusual fatigue and/or light-headedness

Different Heart Attack Signs in Men and Women

Women often experience signs and symptoms of heart disease that are different from men. This is because smaller arteries may be blocked in women, whereas men often have blockages in the main arteries. Women are less likely to seek immediate medical care and are more likely to die. Differences include:

  • Men normally feel pain and numbness in the left arm or side of the chest, but in women, these symptoms may appear on the right side
  • Women may feel completely exhausted, drained, dizzy or nauseous
  • Women may feel upper back pain that travels up into the jaw
  • Women may think their stomach pain is the flu, heartburn or an ulcer

Don’t delay. If you experience any heart attack symptoms, call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances of a positive outcome.

What Are Atypical Warning Signs?

In an atypical presentation, the signs and symptoms are different. The patient may not complain about pain or pressure in the chest. Be alert for the following:

  • A sharp or “knife-like” pain that occurs with coughing or breathing
  • Pain that spreads above the jawbone or into the lower body
  • Difficult or labored breathing

What Are Heart Attack Risk Factors?

Some heart attack risk factors are hereditary. These risk factors include a family history of diabetes, a family history of heart disease and inherited hypertension, among others.

Most risk factors though are acquired and can be controlled through lifestyle changes, including:

  • Chest pain, pressure, burning, aching or tightness that may come and go
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking and using tobacco products
  • Metabolic disease, diabetes or other illnesses
  • Stress
  • For women, risks can also include birth control pills, a history of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or having a low birth weight baby

How Can You Prevent a Heart Attack?

To help prevent a heart attack, it is important to:

  • Understand your risk and see a doctor for early diagnosis
  • Learn the signs and symptoms, including differences in the way heart attacks occur in men and women
  • Be alert for a heart attack in yourself or someone in your vicinity, becoming an active bystander could save a life
  • When in doubt, call 9-1-1, first responders have the medical technology to quickly save a life

Save a Life with Hands-Only CPR

Eighty-five percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack. The use of hands-only CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, can be instrumental in saving the life of someone having a heart attack. If you believe someone is having a heart attack:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest

Renowned Heart Attack Treatment Through University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute

Our highly experienced team is known for fast heart attack care with some of the best quality outcomes. During a heart attack, one of the following heart attack treatments may be performed:

  • Antiplatelet therapy to prevent further blood clots
  • Cardiac medications to prevent abnormal heart rhythms, promote blood flow, prevent blood clotting and reduce heart rate and blood pressure 
  • Fibrinolytic therapy to help dissolve the blockage and restore blood flow to your heart
  • Oxygen therapy to improve oxygen flow to your heart
  • Pain medication to reduce your pain, decrease how hard your heart has to work and how much oxygen it needs

After a heart attack is confirmed and you are effectively stabilized, a minimally invasive procedure known as angioplasty may be necessary to open blocked arteries. 

In the event surgery is needed, coronary artery bypass surgery may be performed to open arteries and restore blood supply to your heart.

Cardiac Rehabilitation & Heart Attack Prevention

To help you recover from a heart attack and prevent another one, UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute recommends and offers comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation. Our nationally accredited program uses a three-phase approach that can help you improve your health and overall well-being.

Through personalized education, counseling and exercise training, you can gain a thorough understanding of your heart condition, reduce your risk for future problems and learn how to exercise safely and strengthen your muscles.

For More Information About Heart Disease

If you are experiencing any heart attack symptoms, call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately. 

If you have a history of heart disease and would like an evaluation by heart specialists at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, please call UH Geauga Medical Center’s Amish Nurse Navigator at 440-901-1040. Our navigator can help you find the best specialist for your needs and answer any questions.


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