Heart attacks are a sudden and distressing event in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. Blood clots form when the arteries that transport blood to your heart are clogged up by fatty substances called cholesterol. The term used to describe this process is heart disease, which is the leading cause of heart attacks and a major killer worldwide.
To minimise the damage inflicted on the heart muscle, it is important to act on the warning signs as soon as they arise.
Chest pain, a common warning sign of having a heart attack, is easier to spot because the symptom produces distinctly alarming effects, such as the feeling that the chest is being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back, explains the NHS.
One symptom that is easy to overlook but is just as important is breathlessness.
As Professor Peter Weissberg is the former Medical Director of the BHF and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, explained: “It’s easy to ignore breathlessness as a sign that we’re simply getting old or unfit.”
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Heart attack symptoms: Breathlessness brought on by everyday activities is a sign
He continued: “When you do moderate-intensity exercise like cycling or brisk walking, it’s normal to breathe a bit harder – although you should still be able to speak.”
However, feeling out of while doing everyday activities that do not require much exertion, especially if you haven’t experienced this before, could indicate a serious cardiovascular complication.
In addition to heart disease, breathless may also signal heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation.
What should you do if you experience breathlessness?
“It’s important to take breathlessness seriously and talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Most heart disease is treatable, but it is important to have it diagnosed before it is too late,” advised Professor Weissberg.
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What are other warning signs associated with a heart attack?
In addition to chest pain and breathlessness, a heart attack can make you feel sick, sweaty and lightheaded, explains the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Less common symptoms include a sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack or excessive coughing or wheezing.
According to the BHF, heart attack symptoms causing varying degrees of pain.
“For some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion,” explains the health site.
Heart attack: Fatty foods cause a build up of cholesterol, which clogs up your arteries
The duration of symptoms also differs, explains the health body: “Heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly.”
How to prevent a heart attack
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack.
A key preventative measure is to eat a diet low in saturated fats because this type of fat causes a build up of LDL cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood that clogs up your arteries, triggering a heart attack.
Foods high in saturated fat include fried foods, fatty cuts of meat and cakes and biscuits.
Instead, you should opt for a diet low in unsaturated fat, such as a Mediterranean-style diet.
This diet mainly consists of eating more bread, fruit, vegetables and fish, and less meat.
As the NHS points out, oily fish, such as herring, sardines and salmon, can form part of a Mediterranean-style diet, but there’s no need to eat this type of fish specifically to try to prevent another heart attack.