Know the Common Signs of a Heart Attack

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Provided by Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

If you were having a heart attack, would you know the signs? Here’s what to be aware of and how to determine if you are at risk.

“A heart attack results from clogging of the artery that deprives heart tissue of oxygenated blood,” said Joseph Lee, MD, Cardiologist and Medical Director of Electrophysiology at Sentara Heart & Vascular Center. “So when the heart tissue doesn’t have oxygen being delivered to it constantly, it starts to take injury and eventually will die. The classic sign of clogged arteries in the heart is chest pain. It can be described as pain,
pressure, and for some people a squeezing sensation. There can be other associated features such as radiation of the sensation up to your neck, down your left arm. There can be associated nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, which means that you get sweaty, cold, and clammy all over. Those are classic signs for a heart attack.”

Signs Differ for Men and Women

“Sometimes in women, presentation can be different,” says Kambeez Berenji, MD, Interventional Cardiologist. “Occasionally their presenting symptom could be abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.”

Heartburn or Heart Attack?

Some patients worry about knowing the difference between heartburn or a heart attack.

“I often ask people if they’ve had heartburn before,” says Lee. “If they have had heartburn and they know what it feels like, then I think that’s a good indicator. If they’ve not had heartburn before, then I’m a little bit worried about whether that’s really heartburn. Oftentimes people will tell me, this is very different from my heartburn pain. That of course then makes me more concerned that there might be a heart attack going on.”

An evaluation is often needed.

“Even for us as medical providers, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate if the heartburn is a sign of a GI problem, or it’s because of a heart issue, and an evaluation may be necessary,” says Berenji.

Your Heart Disease Risk

“There’s a number of ways that we normally assess for someone’s risk for heart disease,” says Lee. “We look at things like age, blood pressure, cholesterol, gender and can calculate a risk of having a heart event in the next 10 years, and we typically grade that into low, moderate or high, and there’s treatment algorithms that we do follow based upon that assessment. They can include medications, for example, cholesterol lowering medicines.”

Quick Heart Scan Test to Determine Your Heart Attack Risk

“Coronary Calcium Score is a test that we do at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center,” says Berenji, who explained the test takes just 10 to 15 minutes, requires no preparation, but does require a physician referral. “And by doing this non-invasive test, we can define if there is presence of calcium in the coronary artery, which is an indirect way of looking at blockage in the heart artery.”

For more information on heart health, visit, or to find a provider, call 1-800-SENTARA.


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