A heart attack happens when there is a sudden and complete or partial blockage of the artery that supplies blood to the heart. Mostly, coronary artery disease is the underlying cause of a heart attack. It is a condition in which the coronary artery (the blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart) is blocked. The longer the blockage is left untreated, the more is the damage to the heart muscle. If the blood flow is not restored on time, it can lead to permanent damage of the heart muscle. Most people don’t know they have heart disease until they have chest pain (angina) or a heart attack.
Angina (chest pain) is one of the warning signs of a heart attack which can occur hours, days or weeks before an attack and hence, should not be ignored. However, not all heart attacks begin with a sudden crushing chest pain as we might have heard about. In fact, the symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person. The other common symptoms of a heart attack include:
-Discomfort or pain in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
-Shortness of breath
Most people get confused between a heartburn and a heart attack because both cause pain and discomfort in the chest. Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which acid from the stomach comes up into the food pipe causing pain and burning sensation in the chest. It might be a heartburn if you experience:
-Discomfort in the chest after a heavy meal or spicy meal
-Pain that moves up the throat but not radiates to the arms, neck or shoulders
-A bitter taste in the mouth or pain which worsens when you lie down.
According to the American Heart Association, angina is pain or discomfort in the chest which is usually due to a heart disease. In most cases, chest pain could be due to a buildup of plaque (fatty substance) which partially or completely blocks the blood flow to some areas of the heart (depending upon which vessel has been affected). This may lead to pressure or squeezing sensation in your chest. It might feel like a heart attack but is often a warning sign of a heart attack.
There are different types of angina such as:
-Stable angina which is usually triggered by a physical activity or stress. It usually lasts for few minutes and subsides when you rest. It might not be a heart attack but can be a sign that you are likely to get a heart attack.
-Unstable angina can happen even when you are at rest or not physically active. The chest pain might be strong, long-lasting and repetitive. It can be a sign that you are about to have a heart attack. So consult a doctor right away.
-Variant angina is a rare symptom that can happen when you are asleep. The arteries become narrow suddenly leading to severe pain. This should be treated immediately.
When To Go To A Doctor?
Most often than not, people tend to ignore any pain or discomfort in the chest thinking it could be due to acidity or a heartburn but it could be a subtle sign of a heart attack. If you feel pain in the left arm or upper part of the jaw which is accompanied by sweating, then it could be a sign of a heart attack. In such a case, rush to a hospital immediately.
Your doctor will ask you a few questions and order a few tests to find out the exact cause and treat the condition accordingly to prevent a heart attack (if any).