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Don’t ignore the atypical symptoms of heart attack

June 07, 2020 05:25 AM


Don’t ignore the atypical symptoms of heart attack

Dr Samir Kubba PHOTO: HTCS

It has been observed that patients with heart attack are delaying visiting hospitals amid the pandemic due to the fear of exposure to Covid-19, delay in transport and ambulance services, etc.

What patients need to be reminded of is that they need the same and proper treatment as offered earlier, before the pandemic. They should not try and sit it out. Patient education becomes all the more vital during this pandemic, since many of the patients may have atypical presentations of acute coronary syndromes and they may ignore or delay them. This is especially true for women, diabetics, elderly and very young people.

Symptoms of a heart attack include Angina (chest pain) or discomfort in the centre of the chest; also described as a heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or squeezing feeling that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can sometimes be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Cardiovascular disease is not just a man’s disease. Symptoms of the disease tend to occur about 10 years later in women than in men. Women are slightly more likely than men to report unusual symptoms — upper back or shoulder pain, jaw pain or pain spreading to the jaw, light headedness, pain or pressure in the centre of the chest, pain that spreads to the arm and unusual fatigue.

According to a study, in women who had an acute Myocardial Infarction (MI), the most frequently reported symptoms were unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, anxiety and indigestion. The majority of women (78%) reported at least one symptom for more than one month before their heart attack. Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms (a silent MI). A silent MI can happen to anyone, though it is more common among women and diabetics. It may be diagnosed during a routine doctor’s exam. At the first signs of a heart attack, call for emergency treatment. Early recognition and treatment of the symptoms can reduce the risk of heart damage. The best time to treat a heart attack is within one hour of the onset of the first symptoms.

Studies show that the people who have symptoms of a heart attack often delay, or wait to seek treatment, for longer than seven hours. They tend to be older, female, have a history of angina, high blood pressure or diabetes. The reasons people delay are that they believe they are young and a heart attack can’t happen to them, many may deny serious symptoms and wait until they ‘go away’, some may seek advice of others, especially family members and try to treat symptoms themselves, using antacids.

Others may think symptoms are related to other health problems (upset stomach, arthritis) and some may put the care of others first (take care of children or other family members) and not want to worry them. Waiting just a couple hours for medical help may limit your treatment options, increase the amount of damage to your heart muscle, and reduce your chance of survival. Calling emergency services is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment. If you are having symptoms, do not drive yourself unless there is absolutely no other option. Even if you’ve been treated for a prior heart attack or if you’ve had other treatments for heart disease, a heart attack can happen again. Medications, open heart surgery and interventional procedures do not cure coronary artery disease, so it is still important to lead a healthy lifestyle by taking medications as prescribed, dietary changes, quit smoking, exercise regularly, follow-up appointments.

The author of this article is Dr Samir Kubba, associate director, Clinical and Interventional Cardiology, Max Superspeciality Hospital, Vaishali.

DISCLAIMER: This initiative is undertaken in the public interest. The information is only suggestive for patient education and shall not be considered as a substitute for doctor’s advice or recommendations. Please consult your doctor for more information

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