Chest tightening, pressure and squeezing are signs of heart attack

There are many different signs and symptoms of heart attack (myocardial infarction), such as shortness of breath, nausea, or sweating, but the most commonly recognized is chest pain. Chest pain from heart attack occurs while you’re at rest vs. doing a strenuous activity. It can feel like a heavy weight crushing down on your chest. It can also feel like pressure or tightening, or even like indigestion or heartburn, and the pain can range from mild to severe. This type of chest pain usually goes on for minutes at a time and may go away and come back. It may also radiate into other areas such as the jaw, or the arms, legs or back. Women often experience symptoms other than chest pain when having a heart attack.

If you are experiencing chest pain that feels like a heart attack or you have other signs of heart attack, call 911 right away.

You may have a genetic (inherited) risk for heart attack or your risk may be acquired (due to lifestyle).

Genetic risk may be higher for people who have a family history of heart disease, or a condition such as:

  • Inherited high blood pressure
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Inherited high cholesterol

Your genetic risk increases as you age, especially in post-menopausal women.

Acquired risk increases if you:

  • Have a lot of stress
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Are overweight
  • Live a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
  • Have (acquired) high blood pressure or high cholesterol

Acquired risk is also higher for people who eat a diet high in saturated fat, and for people with type 2 diabetes. While there are many risk factors for heart attack, it can happen to anyone, regardless of genetic or acquired risk.

Blocked blood flow, blood clots cause heart attack

A common cause of heart attack is atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries, a condition in which fat, cholesterol and other substances build up along the walls of the arteries, causing blockage of blood flow. When this happens, it’s easy for a blood clot to form. If the blood clot breaks loose, it can clog the artery completely, blocking blood supply and killing off muscle cells around the heart. This cellular death can cause irreparable damage to the heart and may be fatal.

Diagnosing a heart attack

To diagnose a heart attack your doctor will likely order a blood test as well as an electrocardiogram (ECG), which measures the electrical activity of the heart. Based on your health history, the results of your tests, and an understanding of your signs and symptoms, your doctor will determine whether or not you’ve had a heart attack. If you have had a heart attack, your doctor will discuss treatment options, which may include a combination of diet and lifestyle modifications, and medication if needed.

To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.