Ask the Cardiologist: What are the symptoms of heart attack?

Dr. Maciej Malinski is on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital. He has been kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions related to maintaining a healthy heart in his Ask the Cardiologist series. To see all posts Dr. Malinski has written, just type “Ask the Cardiologist” into the search bar on the right.

Q: I just had a vibration in my chest, like a cell phone buzzing. Is this a sign of heart attack? What are the others?

A: Symptoms and signs of heart attack can vary. A classic heart attack symptom includes chest pain that could be radiating to the arm or jaw.

Usually, pain would be associated with shortness of breath, sweating and a feeling of distress. Although, roughly 40% of people do not have any noticeable symptoms or very non-specific symptoms.

Medical students are taught that women have atypical symptoms. This is a bit misleading. The truth is, a majority of women have typical symptoms; they just have atypical ones more frequently than men. In my practice, I see a broad spectrum of unusual symptoms ranging from nausea to “feeling out of space”. I think that atypical symptoms are the unusual response of the body to the stressful situation induced by heart attack (lack of oxygen in the heart muscle).

Coming back to your question, usually if symptoms are lasting for a long time, like in your case, they become more typical. Eventually, it is fairly easy to diagnose heart attack with some addition medical testing by doing EKG (recording electrical activity of the heart), and checking levels of heart enzymes.

It’s important to always place the symptoms relative to what else is happening with the patient. Say you have a patient who has history of headaches and he or she comes in with abdominal pain and headache. Most likely, it’s an abdominal problem and not a heart attack. Also, patients’ overall risk of heart disease matters. If the patient is a female in her 30s without any medical problems, her symptoms are very likely not heart attack related, even if she presents with typical symptoms. On the other hand, if this is a 55 year-old female smoker with diabetes, the possibility of heart disease should be considered, even she has atypical symptoms.

Do you have a question for Dr. Malinski? To submit your question, post it in the comments section below, visit the Sherman Health Facebook page, or email with the subject line “Question for Dr. Malinski.”

This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.

About Sherman Health

Sherman Health has provided medical care to Northern IL since 1888, and is currently home to a network of over 600 physicians. The Sherman blogs are edited by me, Luke. Questions? Comments? Links? Email address is luke at shermanhealth dot com.
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