February is American Heart Month, which means it’s a perfect time to get to know your heart a little bit better. You can begin by dispelling one of the most common misconceptions about heart health — the myth that heart attacks always cause chest pain.
That’s right, even though chest pain is a very common symptom of a heart attack, you can have a heart attack without extreme pain — or without any pain at all. That means it’s really important to learn to recognize the other signs and symptoms of heart attacks, so you can get medical care at the first sign of trouble.
At TLC Medical Group, Anthony B. Lewis MD, FACC, and his team educate patients about their heart health, providing patient-centered care to help women and men enjoy better heart health at every age. Here’s what Dr. Lewis wants you to know about chest pain and heart attacks.
Like any other organ, your heart needs a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood to function normally. When that blood supply is interrupted, you can wind up having chest pain or, in more severe cases, a heart attack.
Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease. CAD happens when the arteries that supply your heart with blood are partially or completely blocked. These blockages are usually caused by a sticky build-up of cholesterol, but sometimes, blockages happen when the arteries spasm and don’t relax.
In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, and more than 800,000 people have a heart attack every year, according to the CDC.
Typically, the decrease in oxygen-rich blood causes your heart to “cramp up,” sending out pain signals that serve as a kind of distress call, letting you know that your heart is in trouble.
But even though chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom for both women and men, not all heart attacks cause chest pain. In fact, about 20% of heart attacks are “silent” — not associated with significant pain or any pain at all.
Silent heart attacks are usually associated with other symptoms, like:
Sometimes, a heart attack causes pain in areas other than the chest. Neck pain, jaw pain, arm pain, and pain in the back or belly can also happen during a heart attack.
It’s also important to know that while heart attacks are common among both women and men, women are more likely to experience these other “less-common” symptoms, like nausea, shortness of breath, or jaw and back pain.
Regardless of gender, if you’re having any of these symptoms, you shouldn’t ignore them — especially if you have heart attack risk factors like:
Having regular heart check-ups plays an important role in keeping your heart healthy, especially as you get older.
To schedule your cardiac check-up at our Port St. Lucie, Florida, practice, call 772-200-3840 or book an appointment online with TLC Medical Group today.