Some heart attacks are silent; you don't feel the pain. The majority cause a squeezing or burning across the chest, deep under your breastbone, in the pit of your stomach, or radiating into the upper back, jaws, arms or hands. An attack can happen all at once, in combination or only in one place, for a few minutes or longer.
During or after an attack, you may be exhausted, short of breath, clammy and nauseated.One type of heart pain is medically known as angina pectoris. Most commonly, it is a warning sign of coronary artery disease.
Not all chest pain originates in the heart, but you should never assume otherwise.
Angina pectoris is brought on by a deficiency of blood supply to the heart muscle due to obstruction or constriction of the coronary arteries.
Narrowing of the coronary arteries from plaque buildup accounts for most angina. When exercise or exertion increases the heart's need for oxygen, the narrowed arteries cannot meet the demand. Angina results.
Temporary reduction in blood flow to the heart is angina pectoris. However, when a coronary artery to your heart becomes completely blocked, a heart attack occurs.
The "Mayo Clinic Health Letter" identifies these signals as a help for identifying angina pectoris:
- Type of discomfort. Typically, victims describe the symptoms of angina pectoris as a "tight," "crushing," "band-like" or "sharp" sensation.
- Onset. In most cases, strenuous physical activity or emotional upset precedes the onset of pain. For some victims, the pain occurs at night but not necessarily in association with stress or exertion.
- Duration. Angina pectoris usually lasts 15 to 30 seconds. If chest pain exceeds one to two minutes, more serious consequences can result.
- Cessation. Discontinuing the activity that precipitates the pain lessens the heart's need for oxygen. As a result, the pain should stop within seconds.
- High stakes. Any time you experience chest pain similar to what we have described or any new chest pain, seek medical attention immediately. Your life could depend on it.