You might think that the way to recognize when someone’s having a heart attack is when they’re clutching at their chest and bent over double in pain; unable to breathe and saying, “Call an ambulance…” However, there are many different reasons for a heart attack – be it the collapse of an artery like the aorta, or atherosclerosis blocking an artery, unable to get enough blood into the heart to pump it out again. The term “cardiac arrest” seems more appropriate because the blood-pumping action of the heart is arrested by the blocked artery.
The human body is an amazing machine, so while you’d think that pain from a heart attack would cause pain around the heart, there’s a particular cluster of symptoms that has the pain transferring from the heart the arms, other areas of the chest, as well as in the teeth and jaw.
The general heart attack symptoms include:
- Pressure in the chest – a kind of squeezing chest pain
- Tightness in the chest
- Experiencing a shortness of breath
- Perspiration – possibly the body’s reaction to the pain
- A pain similar to heartburn or indigestion
- The above, accompanied or not by nausea and/or vomiting
- A spread of pain across the shoulders, neck, jaw, and arms
- A short blackout or dizziness
It’s interesting to note that in a study performed on 30 women aged 55 and younger, who’d had heart attacks and were interviewed shortly after being released from the hospital, many of them thought they were too young to be having a heart attack and didn’t seek treatment immediately; or they felt they were too busy. When they did get their symptoms checked, many of the healthcare providers didn’t recognize the symptoms, which included:
- Unexplained disorientation, weakness, fatigue, or dizziness
- Discomfort between their scapulae
- Recurring discomfort in the chest
- And – most interestingly – a sense of impending doom
If you are travelling and someone appears to be having a heart attack or is in some kind of pain, ask him or her if they need help and call the doctor immediately. Leaving the pain to continue for too long can caused irreparable damage to the heart and may increase the chance of the heart attack being fatal. Tourism accommodation such as OR Tambo hotels, as well as the many popular safari lodges, city hotels, B&B’s and backpackers should have emergency numbers that you can call if you see someone displaying these symptoms. Even if it’s just a false alarm, it’s better to be safe than sorry.