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Have you ever felt a painful pressure in your chest that lasts a concerningly long time? What about pain in your arm(s), shoulder(s), back, and neck? If you’ve experienced any uncomfortable feeling in your chest or near your heart for any period, it’s common to ask, “Is this what a heart attack feels like? Or is this something else?”

To help clarify what a heart attack can feel like and to help you recognize the signs more quickly, let’s evaluate the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

For the most accurate explanation, we’re taking a look at signs that most commonly occur in men. (Stay tuned for next month’s article, which will cover the most common signs of heart attacks in women.)

Signs of a Heart Attack in Men

In most cases, heart attacks in men lead to a combination of symptoms. While it is possible to only suffer one of the following symptoms during a heart attack, it’s more common for men to experience any combination of:

Onset Chest Pain

Pain in the chest is one of the first and most common symptoms of a heart attack in men. In most cases, the pain begins as a mild discomfort. Whether you are at rest or active when the pain starts, it often begins with an uncomfortable or mildly painful feeling in the chest, and it can escalate gradually or rapidly.

Why can heart attacks cause chest pain? A heart attack occurs when a blockage prevents blood from reaching the heart muscle. Your heart requires oxygen from the blood to stay alive. Once that supply is cut off, the affected heart tissue begins to die and causes pain.

Think of it like your muscles during strenuous exercise—when you exert yourself to the point where your muscles aren’t receiving enough oxygen, they will tighten, cramp, and spasm. A heart attack is similar, but instead of your heart not getting enough oxygen, your heart is not receiving any oxygen at all, leading to severe, life-threatening complications.

Pain in the Arm or Shoulder

Another common warning sign of a heart attack in men is the rapid development of pain in the arm, most commonly the left arm (although it can affect the right arm, as well). This pain will sometimes spread to the shoulder or back and may even reach the neck and chin. Arms can ache for a number of reasons, but when it is related to a heart attack, pain in the left arm often comes on suddenly and sharply and is accompanied by tightness or pressure in the chest.

Why can heart attacks cause arm pain? The painful sensations you may feel in your arm, back, or neck during a heart attack are due to something called “referred pain.”

The nervous system is a highly complex structure with nerve channels all over the body. When pain occurs in an area like the arm, receptors will send pain signals along a specific neural pathway to the brain’s sensory cortex, letting the patient know, “There is a problem with the arm.”

However, each organ does not have its own pathway to the brain—it must send pain signals along the pathways of other, more sensitive areas of the body to reach the sensory cortex. If the sensory cortex receives a signal from the heart via the same pathway that serves the arm, the brain will likely interpret the pain as coming from the arm, which is what can cause the arm or surrounding areas to experience pain during a heart attack.

Difficulty Breathing

The early stages of a heart attack for men may include shortness of breath or breathing troubles. There are several reasons you may experience shortness of breath—such as too much physical exertion, an asthma flareup, a viral infection, or even a panic attack—but it can be a sign of a heart attack in men when it’s accompanied by chest pain or pressure, arm pain, fatigue, excessive coughing or wheezing, and even lightheadedness.

Why can heart attacks cause breathing difficulties? there are three main reasons for shorter breathing during a heart attack:

  • Your body goes into survival mode and does everything it can to get more oxygen into the body and to the heart, including breathing as short and fast as possible.
  • Blood blockage can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs, making deeper breathing impossible to achieve.
  • Increased chest pressure can hinder your ability to draw a deeper breath.

Additional Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Men

Male heart attack patients tend to experience the symptoms mentioned above, as well as additional symptoms like:

  • Unexplainable fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Cold sweats
  • Increased anxiety
  • Excessive coughing or wheezing

What to Do When Experiencing Heart Attack Symptoms?

  • If you or someone nearby is experiencing complications that seem like symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 ASAP.
  • Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital if you are the one experiencing symptoms, and do not opt to drive someone else experiencing symptoms, either—EMTs are more equipped to handle such an emergency and can provide life-saving care in transit to the hospital.
  • Do not try to “wait it out.” Heart attack warning signs cannot be ignored or downplayed, and every minute matters following the onset of symptoms. Seeking medical care during a heart attack is a matter of life and death.

Middle Georgia Heart is dedicated to your heart health and supporting your heart so that you reduce your risk of experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

Our heart doctors understand the severity of heart attacks, and we know the ways to lower your risk of experiencing one altogether. To best protect your heart and overall health, schedule an appointment with our heart specialists today: 478-207-5224

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