Would you know if you were having a heart attack? Recognizing the early signs of heart attack, which takes 800,000 lives a year in the U.S., could be life-saving.

Heart attacks have true beginnings, with warning signs that can start up to two weeks before a major episode. Symptoms can include conditions you might dismiss as something else like nausea, a feeling of fullness, excessive fatigue or anxiety. Pain in the jaw or in one or both arms could also signal heart trouble.

Chest pain is perhaps the most widely known symptom of heart attack. It can manifest itself as chest pressure, squeezing, aching or burning.

According to the American College of Cardiology (ACC), ask these questions when determining whether chest pain could be a heart attack:

  1. Are you having discomfort in the middle of your chest?
  2. Are you having any of the following chest discomfort symptoms: fullness in the chest, burning in the chest, aching in the chest or tightness in the chest?
  3. Do the symptoms come and go?
  4. Are the symptoms worse with activity and disappear when you rest?
  5. Are you reluctant to tell someone about these symptoms?
  6. Are you reluctant to call because you think your mild symptoms do not warrant doing so?
  7. Do you have any associated symptoms: discomfort that goes from the chest to your left arm or jaw, clammy perspiration, shortness of breath, nausea or dizziness?

If the answer to a few of these is “yes,” calling 9-1-1 is crucial, says Nicole Roman, a registered nurse and Certified Cardiovascular Care Coordinator with Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. Do not attempt to drive, she stresses.

Roman says emergency medical services staff, or EMS, can quickly diagnose whether a heart attack is in progress, begin treatment and get patients to the nearest accredited Chest Pain Center with a cardiac catheterization lab, like Shady Grove Medical Center or Adventist HealthCare Washington Adventist Hospital. Accredited cath labs, as they are known, meet or exceed quality standards in the care of patients with heart attacks.

“The heart muscle can suffer irreversible damage within the first few hours of heart attack symptoms, so it is imperative to get to a cath lab as quickly as possible to open the blocked vessel and restore normal blood flow,” Roman says.

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