Heart attack symptoms: ‘Brief’ symptoms that people often ‘ignore’ before it’s too late

Classic heart attacks may present symptoms such as extreme chest pain and pressure; stabbing pain in the arm, neck, or jaw; sudden shortness of breath; sweating and dizziness. Though that is when the attack happens.

In some cases, if it is a silent heart attack or Silent Myocardial Infarction (SMI), there are no pronounced signals that one is in the throes of an attack as all classic signals are missing.

Dr Jorge Plutzky, director of the vascular disease prevention program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital said: “SMI symptoms can feel so mild, and be so brief, they often get confused for regular discomfort or another less serious problem, and thus people ignore them.”

Scientists tracked the health of patients treated for acute coronary syndrome at sites in Canada, Switzerland and the United States and found symptoms that commonly surface a week prior to having a heart attack to look out for.

These symptoms should not be ignored, and according to the researchers, should be examined by a GP immediately.

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Unusual fatigue

The Harvard study stated that many patients may feel extreme exhaustion or physical discomfort and put it down to overwork, lack of sleep, or general aches and pains.

Cedars Sinai Hospital said: “About two out of every three people who have heart attacks have chest pain, shortness of breath or feel tired a few days or weeks before the attack.”

Sleep disturbances

According to Cedars Sinai Hospital, insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

As time goes on, a lack of sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart. Sleeplessness can increase stress levels, lead to less motivation to be physically active, and drive unhealthy lifestyle choices.


Prior to the heart attack, sleeplessness may get disregarded as a symptom.

Sleep apnea – where a repeated pause in breathing occurs whilst asleep – is another indicator of bad heart health. Sleep apnea can be caused by certain health problems, such as obesity and heart failure and could be an early sign of a heart attack.


Some patients suffer from stress episodes so severe that it causes anxiety and is common for heart-attack sufferers.

Doctor Alan Blaker, McLeod Interventional Cardiologist, noted that some people explain it as a feeling of impending doom, which is the body’s way of expressing something is wrong that can bring immense pressure on the heart.

Arm weakness or discomfort

Other typical symptoms like arm weakness also get attributed to a stretch or muscle pull, similarly – mild pain in the throat or chest can be confused with indigestion or heartburn.

Penn Medicine reports that you may experience pain or discomfort in your arms, in one or both of them, as well as your back, neck and jaw.

These symptoms can vary from person to person. For instance, some people describe their back pain from a heart attack as feeling like a rope being tied around them. You may also feel heavy pressure on your back.

As doctor Plutzky advised, if you think you are experiencing any of the aforementioned less obvious symptoms that precede a heart attack, do not delay in finding help.

”If you notice any symptoms of an SMI, do not brush them aside, even if you do not think they are serious,” said doctor Plutzky. “Playing it safe is always a better move than risking the potential harmful downside.”

When responding to a heart attack, doctor Alan Blaker advised that if you are able, take an aspirin and call 999.

If you are near a person who has suffered a heart attack, Mayo Clinic advises: “Begin CPR if the person is unconscious. If the person isn’t breathing or you don’t find a pulse, begin CPR to keep blood flowing after you call for emergency medical help.

“Perform CPR by pushing hard and fast on the centre of the person’s chest in a rapid rhythm with about 100 to 120 compressions a minute.”

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