The blockage is most often a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances, and can have a number of symptoms. In the UK, healthcare costs relating to heart and circulatory diseases are estimated at £9 billion each year, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF). Not all people who have heart attacks will have the same symptoms, though there are seven key signs to look out for.
Although heart attacks can be fatal, survival is improving. The BHF says in the 1960s more than seven out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal, while today at least seven out of 10 people survive.
The Mayo Clinic says that some heart attacks strike suddenly, but notes that many people have “warning signs and symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance”.
The site says that the earliest warning might be recurrent chest pain or pressure that’s triggered by activity and relieved by rest.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has outlined seven key signs to be aware of.
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The most common warning symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women are chest pain or discomfort.
NHLBI states: “Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the centre or left side of the chest. The discomfort usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
“It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion.The feeling can be mild or severe.”
It notes that you may also have upper body discomfort. This could be discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.
The organisation says that shortness of breath may actually be your only symptom, or it may occur before or along with chest pain or discomfort.
It can occur when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
It says you should also “pay attention” to several other possible symptoms of a heart attack.
These include breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days, and nausea.
Other possible signs include vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness, and “any sudden, new symptoms or a change in the pattern of symptoms you already have”.
This may be, for example, if your symptoms become stronger or last longer than usual.
The NHS says: “If you suspect the symptoms of a heart attack, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.”
It adds: “Do not worry if you have doubts. Paramedics would rather be called out to find an honest mistake has been made than be too late to save a person’s life.”
Indeed, the health service says symptoms can be mild.
It says that although chest pain is often severe, some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion.
“In some cases, there may not be any chest pain at all, especially in women, older people, and people who have diabetes,” it adds.
It is estimated that around 1.4 million people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack – around one million men and 380,000 women.