February marks the start of American Heart Month. One of the reasons a whole month is dedicated to heart health is because heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Even though many people suffer from heart disease, less than a third of people can recognize the major symptoms of a heart attack.

When it comes to heart attacks, every minute matters. The faster help is called, the less damage can be done. So how can you tell if someone is having a heart attack?

“Chest discomfort is the most common symptom of heart attack,” says Avni Jain, MD, a family medicine physician with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group. “The pain can be described as a pressurized or squeezing sensation in the center of the chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw and back. It may persist or go away after a few minutes.”

Other common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

Women are more likely than men to experience chest discomfort along with some of the other common symptoms.

Dr. Jain says if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. In the meantime, follow all directions by emergency personnel on how to reduce the risk of further heart damage. Common recommendations include taking aspirin, nitroglycerin or administering CPR if the person is unconscious.

Sources: The American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only.  For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.