A heart attack happens when the heart does not get enough blood flow. During a heart attack, heart muscle can be permanently damaged. Many people think a heart attack is sudden, like a “movie” heart attack, where someone clutches her chest and falls over. But the truth is that many heart attacks start slowly as mild pain or discomfort. These feelings may even come and go. For both women and men, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or discomfort in the center of the chest. The pain or discomfort can be mild or strong. The discomfort may be constant or it may come and go over several minutes.
For women, though, chest pain may not be the first sign that your heart is in trouble. Before a heart attack, women have reported unusual tiredness, trouble sleeping, heartburn, a cough, heart flutters, or loss of appetite.
These are symptoms that could mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
A stroke happens when part of the brain doesn’t get the blood it needs. Brain cells can die during a stroke. There are two kinds of stroke:
- An ischemic (iss-KEE-mik) stroke happens when blood is blocked from getting to the brain.
- A hemorrhagic (heh-muh-RA-jik) stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, and blood leaks into the brain.
A person might also have a “mini-stroke,” or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This happens when, for a short time, less blood than normal gets to the brain. You may have some signs of a full stroke, or you may not notice any signs at all. A TIA can last a few minutes or up to 24 hours. Then you’re back to normal.
TIAs are important warning signs to reduce your risk because they are a sign that a stroke will likely occur in the future. TIAs can occur days, weeks, or even months before a major stroke. In about half the cases, the stroke happens within 1 year of the TIA.
The signs of a stroke come on all of a sudden and are different from the signs of a heart attack. Signs include sudden:
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause