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  • Writer's pictureThe Ideal Team

Heart Attack: Know the Signs

Did you know that heart disease accounts for nearly half the deaths in Canada and often heart attack symptoms go unrecognized by 53% of women? The reason for unrecognized symptoms could be due to how the heart attack feels to the individual. In some cases, a heart attack may feel like pressure in the chest, overall weakness, indigestion, or even "a touch of the flu".

Knowing the common signs of a heart attack or cardiac arrest can save your life or the life of your loved ones, close friends, or neighbours.

Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest: Know the Difference

We often use the terms interchangeably when discussing possible outcomes and dangers of heart disease. However, the differences are quite clear:

A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating.

In other words, a heart attack is a circulation problem, while sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. Cardiac arrest happens suddenly and without warning and occurs when an electrical malfunction causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). With the pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to vital organs such as the brain and lungs and the person will lose consciousness and has no pulse. Without treatment, cardiac arrest will be fatal within minutes.

Signs of a Heart Attack

According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, signs can vary and may be different for men and women. If you experience any of the following signs, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services right away!

  • Chest discomfort, such as pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning or heaviness

  • Sweating not caused by any exertion of an activity or other reasonable cause

  • Upper body discomfort in your neck, jaw, arms and back

  • Nausea

  • Shortness of breath

  • Light-headedness

Women may experience a heart attack without the chest pressure. They may experience other common signs such as shortness of breath and light-headedness, however, additional signs such as pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, fainting, upper back pressure, or extreme fatigue may also be presented.

What to do if you Experience a Heart Attack?

  1. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services immediately.

  2. Stop all activity. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

  3. Take your nitroglycerin, if you normally take it.

  4. Take ASA (Aspirin) - Chew or swallow ASA (Aspirin) if you are not allergic or intolerant. Recommended: one 325mg tablet or two 81mg tablets.

  5. Rest and wait for help to arrive

  6. Keep a list of your medications in your wallet and by the phone as emergency services will require this when they arrive.

Signs of Cardiac Arrest

As stated above, sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal due to the heart's inability to pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other vital organs. The signs are very sudden and without warning signs:

  • Sudden collapse

  • Unresponsive to touch or sound

  • Not breathing or making gasping sounds

Approximately, 35,000 Canadians experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year. It is crucial to seek medical assistance immediately.

1 in 10 survive cardiac arrests that happen at home or in public spaces and the survival rate doubles for those who experience cardiac arrest and receive immediate attention.

What do you do if you Witness Signs of Cardiac Arrest?


  1. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services right away

  2. Yell for an AED if in a public space where one is available

  3. Start CPR - push hard and fast in the centre of the chest

  4. Don't be afraid of doing it wrong as any help is the victim's best chance at survival

Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome (SADS)

Often genetic, Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome is a range of heart problems that cause sudden death in seemingly healthy young people. It is characterized by the following signs:

  • Fainting or Seizure during physical activity

  • Fainting or Seizure from distress or being startled

  • Family history of death that is sudden, unexplained

If you or a loved one has one of the symptoms of SADS above, seek advice from your family doctor and asked to be referred to a cardiologist or an electrophysiologic for a complete cardiac assessment. This assessment should include an analysis of the heart rhythm and exercise testing. It is highly recommended that all immediate relatives of individuals known to have an Inherited Rhythm Disorder, such as SADS, be screened.

The information above is for informational purposes only. Always seek medical advice if you or a loved one suffers from heart disease to learn about prevention and treatments.


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