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Have you ever had a sharp pain in the chest and thought you were having a heart attack? Did you hear about the gentleman who had gas or heartburn and turned out he was in fact, having a heart attack? What about the lady who had chest pain and turned out to have a muscular injury only?
It is often quite difficult to determine what is the cause of your chest pain: is it a serious cardiac issue or just a muscular pull?
Here are some myths and facts about chest pain which we should all know.
Fact: Chest pain can have many causes. It can be from a blocked artery in our heart which is called angina. It can also be from other structures in the chest.
Fact: A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is completely cut off by a blood clot. Angina or angina pectoris refers to the feeling of chest pressure, tightness or discomfort, which usually worsens with exertion and reduces with rest. Angina usually occurs when the blood flow to the heart is not meeting the demands of the heart and usually occurs due to blockages in the heart.
Fact: Chest pain is the main complaint in only about two-thirds of heart attacks. In the remaining one thirds, patients may not complain of chest pain. They may have atypical complaints like pain in the shoulder, jaw pain, choking in the throat, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or severe fatigue. A small number of people may not experience any symptoms at all.
Fact: Chest pain could be on the left, right or on both sides and could represent heart blockages or heart attacks. Chest pressure or tightening can be experienced anywhere in the chest, even in the upper abdomen, and commonly spreads to the neck, arm, shoulder and jaw.
Fact: If you suspect you are experiencing a heart attack, you should immediately go to the nearest emergency department and get an ECG done. Lying down, waiting, resting, coughing and doing any other maneuvers can only lead to unnecessary delays in your treatment and may even aggravate the problem.
Fact: In a heart attack, the blood flow to one of the arteries gets blocked, which can cause heart tissue damage. When the heart stops beating it is referred to as ‘cardiac arrest’. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest. So, before a heart attack culminates in a cardiac arrest, no time should be wasted in reaching the nearest hospital.
Fact: Although heart attacks were common in males over the age of 45, recent trends show that heart attacks are more and more common in younger age groups. One in four heart attacks in India occur in people under 40 years of age.
Fact: The most common cause of death in women is heart disease. Although women can get heart attacks, they usually occur after menopause. Younger women can also experience heart blockages and heart attacks, especially if they have risk factors like smoking, diabetes, hypertension, stress, high cholesterol or family history of heart disease.
Men and women can experience heart attacks very differently. While chest pain could be the dominant symptom, women may feel unusual symptoms like breathlessness, jaw pain, shoulder or back pain, nausea, heartburn or unusual fatigue.
Fact: False. Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death in women.
Fact: While a family history of heart disease can increase one’s risk of developing the illnesses, many individuals have heart problems without any family history. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and stress.
Fact: False. Lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing heart disease, despite a family history. A healthy diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables as well as regular exercise, can keep heart disease at bay.
Fact: If you experience any chest pain, the best thing to do would be to get an electrocardiogram (ECG) done immediately. Do not presume it is muscular or heart burn. Get an ECG as soon as possible. It might save your life.