The Unexpected Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

When heart attacks come to mind, you probably have an idea of what the scene looks like from an outsider’s perspective. You may imagine your chest suddenly radiating with pain as you dramatically drop to the ground and wait for emergency personnel to arrive. You’re then whisked away to the ER where the doctors tell you your surprising prognosis. This scene is possible. Others, however, have plenty of signs beforehand. They just didn’t know what to look for.

We’ve all heard of arm pain and chest discomfort as possible signs, but the list doesn’t end there. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Unusual fatigue

tired woman sleeping on bed with laptop

Feeling unusually tired? This could be a sign. | iStock.com

Feeling tired from time to time is a part of life. However, Cleveland Clinic warns women should pay special attention if they’re dealing with unusual, sudden, and dramatic fatigue. More specifically, red flags include being suddenly worn out after your usual workout, feeling excessively tired after simple tasks, such as making the bed, and struggling with sleep disturbances even though you’re overly tired.

2. Discomfort in the back, neck, or jaw

woman massaging her painful neck

Don’t ignore your neck or jaw pain. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Heart attack symptoms in men and women can vary, and in women especially, the signs may not be so apparent. According to the American Heart Association, when a woman has a heart attack, it may not be all that dramatic. In particular, a sign of a heart attack could be pain or discomfort in the back, neck, or jaw. Pain in any of these areas could certainly make you think something else is going on, or maybe even nothing at all, which is why it’s an important sign to pay attention to.

3. Shortness of breath

exhausted sport woman running outdoors

Your shortness of breath could be a sign. | iStock.com/OcusFocus

Exerting physical energy will likely leave most people out of breath, but it shouldn’t be a common occurrence. The AHA notes if you feel out of breath when you’re resting or sleeping, then you need to pay attention. Waking up tired after eight hours of shut-eye is also a sign your breathlessness could be robbing you of sleep at night. If you often find yourself gasping for air during odd times, talk to your doctor to see if something more is going on.

4. Nausea

man sitting on the bad, clutching his stomach

Your nausea may not be from those leftovers you ate. | iStock.com

No one likes feeling nauseous, but it doesn’t just indicate a possible flu or bug onset, either. Of course, nausea can be a sign of a wide array of issues, but you shouldn’t discount it if you experience it along with any of these other symptoms. It could be far more sinister than you would expect.

5. Lightheadedness

headache during work at the office

Feeling lightheaded is a sign to look out for. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

More often than not, people tend to ignore not feeling their usual 100%. But lightheadedness can be part of a larger-scale problem, WebMD reports. Don’t ignore this symptom when you’re also experiencing other items on our list.

6. A feeling that something’s wrong

worried man looking at his watch on the street

Don’t ignore what your gut is telling you. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Intuition should never be ignored, as it typically signals an actual problem, or at least something that warrants further investigation. Cardiologist Stacey E. Rosen, M.D., told Reader’s Digest, “Heart attack patients have told me they have a feeling of doom — like something’s just not right.” Naturally, a person who has suffered, or is about to suffer a heart attack probably won’t be feeling their best. So, never ignore that gut feeling of yours, no matter what.

7. Cold sweats

Man wearing T-shirt and sweating

Cold sweats can signal a heart attack. | iStock.com

Triggered by the body’s fight-or-flight response, cold sweats can be attributed to factors other than just a change in temperature. Cold sweats can be the body’s response to stress or a sign of injury or illness. Furthermore, MD-Health.com says, “One of the most severe causes of cold sweats is heart attack, where the blood flow is reduced to the heart by a blockage of the blood vessels.”

8. Indigestion

man has indigestion

Indigestion could be a sign. | iStock.com

Feelings of discomfort in the upper abdomen could be caused by many factors, but might also be a possible symptom of something else. Though it seems common, don’t ignore this discomfort if you experience it often. Mayo Clinic says indigestion could signal a heart attack.

9. Heartburn

woman clutching her chest while walking outside

Heartburn can be a sign of something more serious. | iStock.com

While heartburn is pretty recognizable, this kind of pain in your chest could be a symptom of something quite serious. According to the same Mayo Clinic story, heartburn or abdominal pain could be a sign of a heart attack. While there are several medications and even over-the-counter drugs available to deal with such discomfort, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.

10. Sudden onset of weakness

Tired businesswoman

Feeling weak can signal an incoming heart attack. | iStock.com/Poike

Once again, this subtle symptom is more common in women than in men. According to SecondsCount.org, a sudden feeling of weakness can signal a heart attack, so don’t be too quick to ignore it. You should be particularly wary if you have dizziness or nausea accompany the weak feeling.

11. Fainting

man looking tired

When you faint, something is definitely wrong. | iStock.com

You may just blame a fainting spell on having low blood pressure, but you might want to take it more seriously than that. The AHA says passing out can occur when your heart isn’t pumping enough blood up to the brain. Several heart conditions can cause this, and it can even indicate a heart attack is well on its way. 

12. Toothache

Dentist repairs tooth of his female patient

Your dentist can help with a toothache, but not with an incoming heart attack. | iStock.com/LuckyBusiness

We’ve said before that jaw and neck pain are symptoms you should watch out for previously, but you should also pay attention to how your teeth feel. If you’re just having a toothache, a visit to the dentist will probably do the trick. But Thomas P. Connelly, a doctor of dental surgery, tells the HuffPost you should visit a doctor if you’re having tooth pain accompanied with sweating or lightheadedness. This is particularly important for those who have a family history of heart disease.

13. Sexual dysfunction

Unhappy couple sitting on a bed

Sexual dysfunction can be a sign of a bigger problem. | iStock.com

This one really might surprise you, but it’s super important to keep in mind. Patrick J. Skerrett for Harvard Health Publications says erectile dysfunction is an early warning sign of a heart attack. It indicates there’s an issue with blood flow, which can mean plaque is building within the arteries. If you don’t take this issue seriously, an attack could be imminent.

14. Snoring

a man snoring while sleeping

Snoring might seem normal, but it can indicate many problems. | iStock.com

Snoring isn’t just annoying to the person sleeping next to you — it can actually be an indicator of poor health. WebMD explains loud snoring that also has you gasping for air is a symptom of sleep apnea. And this condition, which causes you to stop breathing for a few moments in the middle of the night, stresses your heart out severely. Consider your snoring a warning that more severe consequences may be in your future if left untreated. 

15. Persistent coughing

man coughing as he stands outside

Sometimes a cough stems from a heart problem. | iStock.com

Your annoying cough might not just be a head cold. The AHA says a chronic cough can indicate the heart can’t keep up with the blood being supplied from the lungs. This causes the blood in the pulmonary veins to “back up,” which can cause a heart attack. You won’t be able to feel your blood backing up, but a cough that won’t quit or persistent wheezing means fluid build-up is happening as a result. Those who will have heart failure often notice their mucus is white or blood-tinged, too.

Additional reporting by Lauren Weiler.

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