A heart attack is a serious medical emergency whereby the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. A swift response is required to stave off the risk of permanent damage to the heart muscle. Unfortunately, ignorance of the symptoms often impedes the response rate.
Most people associate heart attacks with chest pain but research suggests this isn’t always a reliable indicator of the serious heart complication.
In fact, one study suggests four alternative symptoms commonly surface a week prior to having a heart attack.
Researchers analysed data from the GENESIS PRAXY study, which tracks the health of patients treated for acute coronary syndrome at sites in Canada, Switzerland and the United States.
Acute coronary syndrome is a term used to describe a range of conditions associated with sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart. One such condition is a heart attack.
READ MORE: Heart attack symptoms: 7 sensations in your chest that signal you’re having a heart attack
A total of 1,145 patients were included in the study, all of whom were 55 or younger and experienced acute coronary syndrome between 2009 and 2013.
Roughly one-third of participants were women.
Overall, most patients reported experiencing at least one warning sign of acute coronary syndrome in the week prior to their event.
The most common symptoms were similar among men and women and included unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety and arm weakness or discomfort.
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Chest pain was rare, with only one-quarter of participants experiencing this telltale symptom in the week prior to their heart event.
However, only 72 percent of men experienced early symptoms, compared to 85 percent of women.
Women were also significantly more likely to seek medical care for these symptoms than men.
Authors also note that few patients started treatment after experiencing warning signs, with less than 40 percent of patients starting therapy such as blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medication.
The use of preventive treatment was similar among both men and women included in the study.
While women were more likely to experience early symptoms in this study, they were also more likely to seek help for these symptoms than men.
The analysis also showed no differences in cardiovascular treatment among men and women.
How to respond to a heart attack
“If you have had a heart attack, it’s important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart,” explains the NHS.
The health body continues: “If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance.”
Aspirin is a medication that helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.
Don’t delay because you think hospitals are too busy.
“The NHS still has systems in place to treat people for heart attacks. If you delay, you are more likely to suffer serious heart damage and more likely to need intensive care and to spend longer in hospital,” warns the British Heart Foundation (BHF).