By Molly Mann, DivineCaroline
I’m an anxious person. My pencils are always gnawed down to nubs, my fingers are constantly drumming on my desk or my steering wheel, and I gave up on regular sleep around 2007. So it really came as no surprise when, during the summer of 2009, I started having panic attacks — sudden onsets of intense fear and physiological symptoms, such as a pounding heart, sweating, and disorientation. As I learned firsthand, panic attacks are bad for many reasons, but their worst feature is their similarity to heart attacks. However, once I learned to tell the difference and realized I wasn’t actually dying every time my pulse began to race, the panic attacks stopped.
According to the American Heart Association, many of us may not be able to recognize a true heart attack when we see one, because we’ve watched too many movies. While a small percentage of heart attacks are “movie heart attacks” — sudden and intense, leaving no doubt about what’s happening — most begin slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. It can be difficult to tell this kind of heart attack from, say, indigestion, and many people who are actually going into cardiac arrest wait too long before getting help, because they aren’t sure of their symptoms.
Though they vary, the warning signs of a heart attack are:
- Chest discomfort. Most people having a heart attack will experience pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of their chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and returns.
- Upper-body discomfort. Heart attack sufferers may also feel pain in one or both arms or in their back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This may also accompany chest discomfort.
- Cold sweat, nausea or vomiting, or lightheadedness.
Keep in mind that these symptoms are most common in men. Heart attacks present slightly differently in female victims; though women will also feel chest pain or discomfort, they’re more likely to experience some of the other common heart attack features — particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain — as their primary symptoms.