A heart attack is a serious medical emergency whereby the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. Due to its location, chest pain is regarded as the hallmark symptom of a heart attack. As GP and lifestyle medicine physician Dr Alka Patel explained to Express.co.uk, in the medical field, a classical description of a heart attack has always been “central crushing chest pain”.
However, focusing merely on chest pain does not capture the full range of possible symptoms and could have disastrous consequences.
According to Dr Patel, there are other key sites in your body that can also signal a heart attack.
The stomach area is one of the main casualties of a heart attack, he warned.
“When heart muscle dies due to lack of oxygen, the injured tissue releases a range of metabolites, including lactic acid, which stimulates nerve fibres that trigger nausea and vomiting,” he said.
According to Dr Patel, the “long vagus nerve” that goes to the gut also connects to the heart and this gets irritated during a heart attack.
The result? A strong surge of nausea, he warned.
“If you have unexplained vomiting, or persistent nausea, especially when exerting yourself, this could be an alarm signal,” said Dr Patel.
Sweaty palms are another surprising symptom associated with having heart attack.
Dr Patel explained: “The body sweats to keep your body temperature down; if your heart has to work harder to pump blood through narrow arteries, your temperature will increase as you expend more energy and consequently you will sweat.
He added: “This could be profuse severe, sudden sweating or persistent sweating; and don’t ignore night sweats, especially as a woman –it might not be the menopause.”
How to respond
Dr Patel’s takeaway message is to not ignore the warning signs – even if they seem unusual.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the first thing you must do is dial 999 immediately for an ambulance.
“Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, it’s really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible,” advises the BHF.
Next, you should:
- Sit down and rest
- Take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within arm’s reach
- Stay calm and wait for the paramedics.
People often dismiss that they’re having a heart attack and will delay seeking medical attention.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), if you’re with someone who’s experiencing heart attack symptoms but they’re putting off or refusing to call an ambulance, it’s really important that you call one for them.
How to prevent a heart attack
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).
According to the NHS, there are three main steps you can take to help prevent a heart attack.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Do not smoke
- Try to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
Regular exercise can also reduce your risk by helping you to lose weight, which will help to lower your blood pressure.