Heart Attack Symptoms and Risk Factors
Heart disease is a term often used interchangeably with cardiovascular diseases. These cardiovascular conditions generally refer to instances of narrowed and blocked blood vessels, a very serious condition that can considerably increase the risk of a heart attack.
In this guide, we explore some of the causes, symptoms and risk factors of heart attack, which is listed as one of 37 health events under NobleOak’s Trauma Insurance. Of course, this information is provided as a guide only and it’s not a substitute for consulting your medical practitioner.
Prevalence of heart problems in Australia
In line with the rest of the world, heart disease is the biggest killer of men and women in Australia. (1)
- Heart disease was a factor in one in four deaths in 2017.
- It is estimated that over 400,000 Australians have had a heart attack at some point in their lives.
- Approximately 57,000 Australians suffer a heart attack every year. This equates to one heart attack every ten minutes.
- In 2017, an average of 21 Australians died every day from a heart attack. This is the same as one death from a heart attack every 67 minutes.
Heart attack symptoms
This major health event can strike at any time and although symptoms in men and women can be similar, there are some distinctions to be aware of.
Signs of heart attack in women
It is essential that once you reach a certain age you are familiar with some of these signs. Knowing what can cause a heart attack and what to do in the event of it happening to you or a loved one can be the difference between life and death.
The most common type of heart attack symptom for women is the onset of some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. Interestingly, this pain may not always be particularly severe. It is even possible for a woman to experience a heart attack without feeling any chest pain at all.
Women are more likely to have the following heart attack symptoms:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both of her arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- A feeling of dizziness or light headiness
- An unusual wave of fatigue
It is important to note that these symptoms can be a lot more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain that you would expect to be associated with a heart attack. The reason for this is that women often tend to develop blockages in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart.
It has been noted that women may experience the symptoms of a heart attack when they are resting, or even asleep. Mental stress is recognised as a common trigger. It is essential that you seek out medical assistance if you suspect you have symptoms which could be those of a heart attack. Even if they appear mild, this does not mean that they could not rapidly increase in seriousness.
Knowing what some of the tell-tale signs of a heart attack are is clearly useful and this kind of knowledge can potentially save lives. It is also true, however, that you should never play down your own fears if the feelings you are having do not directly connect to any of the most common symptoms. You know your body better than anybody else. If something does not feel right, you should always head directly to the doctor or the hospital. False alarm or not, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Signs of heart attack in men
Most men should be cautious of the signs of a heart attack in men. This may seem like a bit of an exaggeration if you are a healthy 30-something living without a history of health issues, but heart attacks can strike anybody down at any time. Being able to recognise the symptoms and the ways to help prevent a heart attack can make all of the difference.
The trick, once you do recognise the signs of a heart attack, is to get medical assistance immediately. Obviously, symptoms vary from person to person, but some are more common than others.
As you might expect, chest pain is one of the biggest tell-tale signs of a heart attack in men. It often starts with mild pain or discomfort in this area. The upside is it gives you time to acknowledge a change within yourself and take action. The theatrical Hollywood-style heart attack that we are used to seeing on TV and in the movies is a lot less common than you might think.
This kind of symptom can be quite severe but that is not always the case. It will generally be experienced like a feeling of fullness or a kind of squeezing. Usually, this discomfort will be in the left-hand side of your chest. It could last for several minutes, or come and go.
Pain in other parts of the body:
Other areas of the body may experience pain when they are not getting enough blood. These areas will usually be above the waist, including your shoulders, your left arm, back, neck, jaw, or even your teeth.
Shortness of breath, known as dyspnea, is another symptom to be wary of. It can come about after you’ve been active, or simply because of congestion in your lungs. Coughing and wheezing could affect your breathing as a result. Unexplained tiredness can also have a role to play. Nausea and vomiting are symptoms of heart attack that are more common in women and may appear in some men also.
It is important to remember that there is no text-book checklist that you can carry out to understand whether or not you are having a heart attack. If you have symptoms, it is quite likely that something is not right and you should seek medical attention.
What happens when you have a heart attack is unique for each person. The most important thing for everyone, however, is how you react to the warning signs. Those who act and get help immediately will be those who stand by far the greatest chance of survival.
Heart attack risk factors
There is no single cause for a heart attack, but many circumstances can increase your risk. Here we will take a quick look at some of the most common ones.
Some of the known medical-related risk factors for heart attack include being morbidly overweight, types of stress and raised levels of blood pressure and cholesterol.
Obesity is often associated with a poor diet and will often cause a high blood cholesterol level, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and the possibility of diabetes. One of the primary triggers for a heart attack, obesity can be tackled with a balanced diet and exercise. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can help reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Review your lifestyle and the areas in it that cause you the most stress. Try to actively combat the stress triggers in your work and home life as it can help manage the likelihood of a major health event like a heart attack.
High blood pressure and cholesterol
As looked at in relation to obesity, a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) lowers your risk of a heart attack.
This occurs as a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Metabolic syndrome doubles your chance of a heart attack. It is essential that you take measures to combat this condition.
Lifestyle factors that may increase the likelihood of a heart attack include smoking, excessive drinking, and poor lifestyle choices.
Both smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack. It is imperative that you eradicate tobacco from your life if you’d like to live without an increased risk of a heart attack, as well as increased risk of cancer.
Quitting alcohol amongst other lifestyle vices can potentially reduce the risks associated with heart disease and many further long-term illnesses.
Following a poor diet will increase your chances of becoming obese and will likely give you high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Alongside a poor diet, a lack of physical activity will play a role in making you more susceptible to a heart attack. Regular exercise promotes a healthy lifestyle which should in turn reduce your chances of suffering a heart attack.
Both the menopause and pregnancy are associated with a heightened risk of a heart attack.
In women, the risk of heart attack increases due to falling estrogen levels after menopause.
Women who suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy may be more susceptible to the long-term risks of these conditions. This is turn could lead to an increase in the risk of a heart attack later in life.
Looking After Yourself
Whilst the risks associated with heart disease and a heart attack cannot be downplayed, particularly as they clearly affect so many people every single day, there are still a number of proactive things that you can do to reduce your own chances of becoming a victim.
Regular medical check-ups
People, in general, are usually wary of going to see their doctor unless there is something very clearly wrong. Whilst this is understandable when you are younger, as you get older, it is essential that you take the time to have regular medical check-ups.
By visiting your doctor and taking all of the appropriate tests, you give yourself the chance to get ahead of many of the possible risk factors associated with heart disease. Being forewarned about any changes in your body could be the key difference between avoiding a debilitating heart attack, or not.
Changing lifestyle habits
In conjunction with regular medical check-ups, there is a lot of benefit to be found in proactively deciding to live a healthier life. This could manifest itself in any number of ways, but the most common would be a better diet and the implementation of some more exercise into your daily routine.
Life Insurance for heart attack
Being diagnosed with a traumatic condition can be life-changing, not only for you but for your loved ones too. Getting adequate Life Insurance cover for a health event of this magnitude can offer financial security to help you when you need it most.
NobleOak offers comprehensive Trauma Insurance cover of up to $2,000,000. This cover pays a lump sum benefit following the diagnosis of a heart attack, one of the 38 listed medical conditions under NobleOak’s Trauma Cover. You can purchase Trauma Cover as an optional extra with Life Insurance or as stand-alone cover. Please note details of cover and exclusions (including the waiting period applicable for some conditions, and the survival period which applies where Trauma Cover is taken as stand-alone cover) are provided in the Product Disclosure Statement.