Tightness in your chest, shortness of breath, feeling confused -- these could be warning signs of a heart attack, stroke, or angina.
“If you’re experiencing symptoms that you’ve never had before, such as significant discomfort, then absolutely come into the emergency room and get it evaluated,” says Shikhar Saxena, MD, a cardiologist who teaches at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Heart disease has haunted generations of Robin Drummond's family. "I have a
family history of
heart disease on both sides," says the 55-year-old African-American and
resident of Hammond, La. "I've had uncles, aunts, and grandparents who've died
heart attacks and heart disease, and two of my mother's brothers died four
months apart. One had a heart attack in church, and four months later, one had
a heart attack in the post office."
When Drummond's father succumbed to heart disease...
Sure, no one likes to go to the ER, says Richard A. Stein, MD, a cardiologist with New York University Langone Medical Center. But he suggests you call 911 if you have chest pain that:
Happens repeatedly, but after you've used much less energy doing something active
Wakes you up at night
How do you know if your symptoms are due to something less serious, like acid reflux? Location is a clue, says Karol E. Watson, MD, co-director of the UCLA Center for Cholesterol and Lipid Management.
A heart problem usually makes you hurt “on the left side of the upper chest,” Watson says. Any pain from the navel to the nose, pain you might describe as "discomfort," or the kind that comes on with emotional or physical stress and goes away with rest, could be heart-related, she says.
Don't assume a simple case of gas is the culprit. See a doctor immediately to rule out a heart attack or angina.
Sometimes the symptoms come on intensely and suddenly. But some people say their pain or pressure built slowly, or seemed minor. To make things more confusing, men and women can have slightly different warning signs, or feel them in different places.