How to Survive a Heart Attack - Step 2: Know the Signs

You too can survive a heart attack, if you know what the signs of danger are.
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PRETORIA, South Africa - June 3, 2014 - PRLog -- How to Survive a Heart Attack

Step 2 - Know the Signs

by Hendrik Baird

I recently had a heart attack and double cardiac bypass surgery. It's no joke. In this, the second of a series, the signs of a heart attack are highlighted to ensure that you too can survive a heart attack.

I never really recognised the signs of the massive heart attack I suffered at the beginning of this year. If I had, who knows how much differently things could have turned out. Perhaps if you know what to look out for, you can take the necessary steps to prevent a heart attack.

Family History

The first sign is to check if there is a history of heart disease in your family. Your chances of having the same problem due to your genetic make-up is relatively high, so if you know, have your heart checked regularly. If you don't know, then certainly ask!

I never knew. It never came up. I never thought to ask. The first time I was made aware of the high risk of heart disease in the family was shortly before my dad passed away from the same thing.

Ironically he never knew that he was having heart attacks, he thought it was either his lungs and a break. In the meantime massive, irreparable damage was being done by every small, unrecognised heart attack. By the time they found out it was his heart, it was too late, the damage was too extensive. He died soon after.

Obviously by having your heart regularly checked and leading an active lifestyle would be the best advice for someone who is aware of congenital heart disease. Combine this with regular medical check-ups and you may most probably avoid having cardiac arrest.

Rapid Heartbeat

Physically, there are additional signs to look out for. Sudden, unexplained episodes of rapid and irregular heartbeat and pulse can mean that a heart attack may be imminent, perhaps in a few weeks or months. These symptoms could be confused with a panic attack, so always take precaution by seeking medical opinion.

There is a condition called ventricular tachycardia that is closely associated with sudden death, particularly after exercise. It is important to get help fast when you notice your heart is pounding , as if you had rushed to catch a bus or had a terrible fright. Usually this feeling has no specific trigger (except exercise in people with a certain type of ventricular tachycardia), but if they last more than a minute or two, they can cause dizziness and weakness. Call a doctor right away!


I never had the heart palpitations, but what I experienced for a few weeks before was a feeling of indigestion every now and then. I of course mistook the cardiovascular symptoms with a gastrointestinal problem. What was in fact happening was the blocked artery cut off the blood supply to my heart, causing angina. My body was sending the pain signals not to my chest, but to my stomach. This is a very common occurrence, especially in women.

An interesting fact is that a women are less likely to go to an emergency room than a man, which results in 42% of women who have heart attacks dying within the year, which compares poorly to the 24% of men who do not survive. Before the age of 50, women's heart attacks are twice a fatal as men's.


Anxiety and insomnia are another two symptoms to look out for. Especially the sudden onset of insomnia when there have been no problems in the past can be an important clue, as can unexplained sleep-walking. Perhaps there are racing thoughts or feelings of dread or impending doom that have no explanation. These are all important issues that need discussion with your medical practitioner.

Pain Looking back, I distinctly remember once after a yoga class when I had a "cramp" between my shoulder blades. I thought it odd that my very relaxing yoga class could produce such a symptom about 30 minutes after the class. I drank several pain medications and used an muscle rub ointment, to no avail, the pain came and went.

Knowing what I know now, it was the pain caused by the blocked arteries that traveled to between my shoulder blades. It could have gone up the neck to the jaw, perhaps all the way to the ear, or radiated down the shoulder to the arm and hand.

The key to fast treatment is to recognise the pain of the heart attack. If it is not felt in the chest, it is often missed, just like I missed it. If pain does not go away after a few days, it merits having a checkup.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is often the first sign of a heart attack. If you feel like you are not getting any oxygen, feeling perhaps dizzy or light-headed, feeling like you are developing asthma, then this could be a first sign of impending trouble. Either way, call your doctor.


Sweating profusely when you haven't really done much by way of exertion may also be a sign of heart problems. In women this may feel like hot flashes or night sweats, typical of menopause. Excessive sweating all over the body (chest, back, scalp, palms, soles of the feet or underarms), flu-like symptoms without a fever, either or both lasting a week or longer should be checked out.

I had a few night sweats and became very worried about HIV, which I had checked out. When this test came back negative, I thought no more of it.


I did realise that I was very tired, I was in bed mostly by eight  in the weeks leading up to my attack. This sense of severe fatigue, this debilitating tiredness that is usually associated with the flu, warrants a check-up with your doctor. Again a sign I ignored.

A heavy feeling in the legs is another sign, another one I  did not recognise. My legs felt heavy like lead, sore from heaviness. I never questioned why. I suffered in silence.

The best way to survive a heart attack is not to have one in the first place. In the words of my yogi: "Listen to your body."

I did not listen to what my body was telling me. I thought nothing of the unexplained symptoms, the pains, the tiredness. Because I was not armed with the right information, my heart is  now 60% stunned, not moving properly after the attack. This may improve over time, but had I known what to look out for and taken action at the appropriate time, perhaps all of this could have been avoided.

Hindsight is great, isn't it?

But you have no such excuse now. You have read up to this point, which means you have perhaps learned something. Please store this away in the back of your mind and use it when your body gives you a signal you may suddenly recognise as a danger sign. Rather be safe than sorry, as the old cliche says.

You can survive a heart attack my paying attention to the signals that your body is providing you. By getting in closer contact with your body and being attentive to it's "language" of symptoms, you can recognise the signs of an impending heart disaster.

Just listen to your body.

© 01/06/2014

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