Early Signs of a Heart Attack

Early Signs of a Heart Attack

Many people believe they are well versed in the signs of an oncoming heart attack. They’ve seen many heart attacks in movies and understand that heart attacks can be sudden, surprising, and lethal.


With this stereotype in mind, however, it is easy to grow complacent about heart attacks; after all, they come on so quickly there isn’t much point in being aware there is one just around the corner.


Many people know that a heart attack will likely feel as if you have sharp, spiking pain radiating from your chest down your arms – most frequently down your left arm – your back or even your legs. You may feel suddenly constricted, as if in a tight bear hug. But by then, it is assumed, except for calling an ambulance, it is too late to react.

This is sometimes true, but often it is not. The signs of a heart attack are often very gradual, giving the victim plenty of time – up to a week and more – to react. Doctors often hear a loved one say the victim was “feeling run down for the past week or so,” without even realizing they missed a vital sign that could have been a lifesaver had the person reacted to the symptom sooner.


Here are some signs to look out for that should trigger a trip to a doctor’s office or the emergency room. These are often the same symptoms that occur just before a heart attack, but they also can occur as much as a week or two earlier.


Uncontrolled or unexplained sweating


While unexplained sweating could be a sign of heart disease, it can also be a sign of an impending heart attack. This occurs because clogged arteries force your heart to work harder to maintain the correct level of blood flow throughout the body, which requires nutrients and oxygen to stay alive. The body is trying to regulate your temperature, even while your heart is working overtime, which causes increased sweating.


Shortness of breath


Shortness of breath could be the result of fluid building up in the lungs, which explains why this symptom can come on very strongly and suddenly. The shortness of breath here is not explained by overexertion or asthma. It is not usually a gradual process, although it can be.


Feeling run down


With the heart working overtime, it is hard to feel energetic. You feel run-down, worn out, suddenly older. It takes more effort to complete routine tasks, or you feel extra tired afterward.




A heart that is about to malfunction is not bringing the correct amount of oxygen to your muscles and your brain. This can cause you to feel off-balance or dizzy.


Unexplained sudden pain


Chest pain is the most common pain felt during a heart attack, but this is often accompanied by sharp, jabbing pain down the arms, back, neck, or legs. These pains can be extremely sharp and hot feeling – feeling like jolts of electricity. If these pains are isolated, with or without chest pain, get to an emergency room quickly.




Unexplained anxiety could occur a week or more before a heart attack. This may be explained by having physical symptoms that are so faint at this point, you can’t name them, although your body can sense them.


Nausea or Flu-like symptoms


Feeling run down feels about the same for a variety of reasons, from the flu to having a virus to the common cold to feeling nauseous. Many symptoms like this could be something benign, or it could be the sign that your heart is beginning to malfunction.


When To Seek Help


In San Diego, call Pacific Medical Care at 619-333-8114 to schedule an appointment for a heart-health check-up. However, when experiencing any acute signs of a heart attack, call an ambulance or have a friend drive you immediately to a fully equipped and appropriately staffed hospital or clinic, where the fully credentialed experts and equipment are available.


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