UnityPoint Health

Where to go for Care During COVID-19 Pandemic

UnityPoint Health wants you to know how to connect with the care you need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click Learn More to find out how to make an informed choice about where to go for care.

Learn More   

Find a Doctor

Cardiology: Heart Attack Prevention & Warning Signs

Skip physician search

Find a Doctor

Expand Search
Criteria Search
Name Search

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs, in most cases, when a vessel supplying the heart muscle with blood and oxygen becomes completely blocked. The vessel has become narrowed by a slow buildup of fatty deposits, made mostly of cholesterol. When a clot occurs in this narrowed vessel, it completely blocks the supply of blood to the heart muscle. That part of the muscle will begin to die if the individual does not immediately seek medical attention.

Did you know?

Heart attacks have beginnings. These "beginnings" occur in over 50 percent of patients. More importantly, if recognized in time, these "beginnings" can be treated before the heart is damaged. 85 percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack. There are warning signs and risk factors associated with heart attacks in men and women.


Warning signs of a heart attack

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Each year, approximately 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attack, and nearly one-third of these individuals die, many before they reach the hospital.

People often dismiss heart attack warning signs, such as chest pain, and think they have heartburn or a pulled muscle. Many people wait too long before getting help. Recognize the early symptoms of a heart attack.

Frequent signs of a heart attack are the following:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest. The discomfort lasts for more than a few minutes or it may go away and come back. The discomfort may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. 
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This may include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness 
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anxiety

These symptoms may come and go until finally becoming constant and severe. Treatments are most effective when they occur in the early stages of chest pain.

Understand your risk for a heart attack

The following risk factors have been linked to a higher incidence of heart attack and should be addressed and eliminated. If you, or someone you care about, struggles with any of these risks, talk to your doctor about ways to remove these behaviors before they have a chance to impact your health.

  • Increasing age: About 82 percent of people who die of heart disease are 65 or older.
  • Gender: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women and typically have attacks earlier in life.
  • Heredity: Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.
  • Smoking: Smokers' risk of developing heart disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers.
  • High blood cholesterol: As blood cholesterol rises, so does the risk of heart disease.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart's workload.
  • Physical inactivity: An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Obesity and overweight: People who have excess body fat - especially around the waist - are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
  • Stress: Some scientists have noted a relationship between heart disease risk and stress.

Source: American Heart Association

Heart attacks symptoms in women can be different than men

Like in men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is pain or discomfort in the chest. However, women can also have a heart attack without having any chest pain. Some of the other symptoms women might experience include:

• Feeling out of breath 
• Pain that runs along the neck, jaw, or upper back 
• Nausea, vomiting or indigestion 
• Unexplained sweating or dizziness 
• Sudden or overwhelming fatigue

Copyright ® 2021 UnityPoint Health. All Rights Reserved. ® SM trademarks of UnityPoint Health.