Spot the Subtle Signs of Stroke or Heart Attack

heart attack or stroke signs

When medical emergencies happen in the movies, they are often sudden, stark, and quite dramatic. From the man who clutches his chest before falling to the floor or the woman who faints away and can’t be revived, these serious events do sometimes happen in the blink of an eye – but in most cases, real life doesn’t work that way. Though a heart attack, stroke, or other serious medical event can come on very quickly and change life in a matter of moments, there are often much more subtle signs that something bad is brewing inside. Heeding those smaller issues can potentially lead to quicker medical intervention, which can give you many more good years to enjoy.

Since medical emergencies and accidents really can happen quickly, it’s a good idea to keep a medical alert pendant or watch with you at all times. This allows you to simply press a button to get help. You don’t have to think about what you’re doing or suffer the panic of not knowing where to turn when things go bad. But medical alert technology comes in quite handy even when the signs of an impending emergency are subtle. For instance, if you suddenly feel awful for no apparent reason, you start suffering chest pain that comes and goes, or you begin slurring your words, you can press the button and our trained professionals can get you whatever help you need.

So what are these subtle signs of medical emergencies? They can vary from one event to another. Let’s start with heart attacks.

The Subtle Signs of Heart Attacks

Heart attacks are serious business. Penn Medicine tells us that someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds – that’s about 800,000 people every year. And of those who suffer a heart attack, one in five of them are “silent” heart attacks. That means you don’t know you’re having one.

Heart attacks often have some clear classic signs, such as chest pain or pressure that might radiate out to the arm (often the left arm), shortness of breath, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, or feeling weak. But there are some more subtle signs that should set off alarm bells. These include[1]:

·         With most heart attacks, individuals often have mild pain or pressure in their chest. The more likely scenario is simply pressure, fullness, or a squeezing sensation. And they aren’t consistent. They can show up and then go away, only to come back later.

·         Pain or discomfort in other parts of the body is a common theme with heart attacks. Though feeling pain in the chest and arms is certainly possible, you might also experience pain in your back, jaw, or neck. Stomach pain is another subtle sign that could easily be overlooked as something less serious. The pain varies from one person to another. Some might feel the pain as more like pressure. Others might feel a dull ache or a sharp pain.

·         Feeling winded for no reason at all can be a sign of a heart attack. It can happen with chest pain, as you might reasonably expect. But it can also happen with no pain associated at all. In addition to feeling shortness of breath, you might also feel a bone-crushing fatigue that makes no sense, dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint. If the simplest task is suddenly enough to make you want to sit down for a while, it could be serious.

·         Flu-like symptoms are also a little-known sign of heart attack. This might include nausea and vomiting, cold sweats, and a general feeling of malaise that mimics what the flu might do.

·         Other unusual symptoms might include a burning sensation (which you might easily mistake for indigestion or heartburn), a constant cough, swollen legs, feet or ankles, or an irregular heartbeat[2].

Keep in mind that women might experience heart attacks in a different way than men do. They are much more likely to have the more subtle signs of heart attack. But it’s also important to note that women are not the only ones who might experience a heart attack differently. Those who are over the age of 75 and those who have chronic conditions might be more likely to experience the subtle signs rather than the overt ones[3].

Though anyone can have a heart attack, the CDC points out that some risk factors make it more likely you’ll have one. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. About 50% of Americans have at least one of these risk factors! It’s important to stop smoking and talk to your doctor about bringing your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

Spotting the Subtle Signs of Stroke

Sometimes a stroke can be a serious, dramatic and immediate event that gets your attention instantly. That’s true whether you are having the stroke or watching it happen to a loved one. The most common sign is the sudden inability to walk or talk, weakness of the limbs, and loss of consciousness.

To pinpoint whether a stroke is actively happening at that moment, use the FAST system. It goes like this:

·         F: This stands for facial asymmetry. Look in the mirror. Does your face droop on one side? Smile at yourself. Is your smile uneven? Open your eyes wide. Does one eyelid droop?

·         A: This stands for arm weakness. Try to lift your arms in front of you or to the sides. Is it impossible or extremely hard to do?

·         S: This means slurred speech. Speak out loud. How does your speech sound? Are your words clear or garbled?

·         T: This means time to get help. Time is of the essence! Medical alert technology means you can simply press a button at the moment you realize you’ve failed the FAST test and get help immediately.

There are more subtle signs that can point to something just as dangerous. These might occur as a stroke is happening, or they might be a sign of a transient type of stroke.

The more subtle signs can include[4]:

·         Slurred speech. A study in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that among a group of callers to emergency lines to report medical emergencies that turned out to be strokes, about 25% of callers reported speech problems.

·         Numbness in the limbs that often travels along one side of the body. This might be accompanied by weakness. The stroke study found that only about 22% of callers complained of limb weakness.

·         Dizziness. Only 6% of individuals who called for help cited dizziness as a concern.

·         Losing your balance. In fact, the study on emergency calls found that 21% of the calls were prompted by a fall.

·         Weakness in the face, such as a droopy eyelid or lip. This was only cited in 10% of cases.

·         Confusion or an altered state of consciousness. This affected about 15% of those in the study.

A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is often considered a mini-stroke, but it’s more than that. The American Stroke Association suggests calling them “warning strokes” instead because they are often the precursor to a full-blown stroke that can cause significant damage. The symptoms of TIA can include those listed above, but they might also include deep fatigue, general weakness (as opposed to weakness on one side of the body), brain fog, difficulty walking, nausea, vomiting, and overall malaise, like you’re coming down with something. Symptoms might also include changes in vision, such as blurry vision or even temporary blindness. A truly terrible headache is another sign of an impending or active stroke.

No matter what the situation, it is usually quite sudden. And in a TIA, it comes on suddenly and goes away just as quickly, perhaps lulling you into a false sense of security that it wasn’t really that bad.

In fact, women tend to play off their symptoms as being overly tired or under too much stress. That’s probably why women account for almost 60% of all deaths from stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Sometimes the only thing you might notice is feeling “off” or suffering from small symptoms here and there that don’t really add up on their own, but do when you step back and look at the big picture. And always pay attention if your friends or family make note of changes in your behavior or appearance, even for brief periods of time. They might be seeing something you don’t[5].

Being Prepared for Emergencies

In the study concerning emergency calls relating to stroke, researchers found that those who delayed calling when they had stroke symptoms were usually older adults living alone, unable to call, or unaware of how serious their situation really was[6]. That’s why it’s vitally important to educate yourself on the symptoms of stroke and choose a medical alert bracelet or pendant to wear at all times. Having the means to call for emergency services even if you can’t speak is the best possible peace of mind. Though peace of mind can’t help you avoid a stroke or heart attack, it can certainly give you the assurance that when you need help, it will be there – all you have to do is press the button. And in a health emergency, every second counts to ensure a better recovery.

Alert1 wishes you abundant health and safety!