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Help For Heart Attack Symptoms in Men—The Risks and Common Conditions That Mimic Serious Warning Signs

Medically Reviewed by

Chest tightness, nausea, trouble catching your breath—you’re probably just tired and stressed out from a long night at the office you reason, but these are symptoms you can’t afford to ignore. In fact, signs of a heart attack in men can be mild and may last for days, even weeks, leading up to a heart attack, or come on suddenly without warning after a particularly strenuous workout, or moderate physical activity.

Predicting where and when a heart attack might occur has been the job of many physicians and healthcare professionals for decades, leading many organizations including, the Heart Association to explore ways to prevent heart disease in men and to better predict heart attack signs in men as well.

Preventing Heart Disease in Men—Risk Factors May Be Key To Reducing Heart Attacks

Statistics indicate that heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States for men, and that 50% of those who die suddenly from coronary heart disease exhibit no symptoms before they pass. Because heart attack symptoms in men may go unnoticed, or can be difficult to detect, certain risk factors can be used to help determine the likelihood of heart disease, and the possibility of heart attack.

Risk factors include:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Overweight
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Excessive alcohol[1]

*Nearly half of all Americans have at least 3 of the risk factors listed above.[3]

Signs of a Heart Attack in Men—When to Get Help

While some heart attack symptoms occur suddenly, without warning, many start with mild discomfort that slowly builds throughout the day, or comes and goes intermittently. Individuals who have diabetes may experience heart attack symptoms very mildly as well, or may exhibit no symptoms during a heart attack at all. If you’ve had a heart attack previously, your symptoms may be different with subsequent heart attacks also. It is important to note that symptoms vary from person to person and not all signs may be present during a heart attack.

The American Heart Association recommends calling 9-1-1 immediately if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs.

Chest discomfort—This may include chest pressure, pain, tightness, fullness, or squeezing that lasts for more than a few minutes, or is intermittent.

Upper body discomfort—This includes pain/discomfort in the arms, or upper back, jaw, neck, or stomach.

Difficulty breathing/catching breath—Shortness of breath that may or may not be accompanied by chest discomfort.

Sweating, lightheadedness, or nausea may also be present.[4]

Heart Attack Signs in Men—Further Diagnostic Testing Required

Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a man is actively having a heart attack, or has suffered a particular cardiac event without proper diagnostic tools and testing.

Depending on the symptoms present at the time of admittance, the facility, and protocol, physicians may perform the following diagnostic tests:

EKG—The electrocardiogram captures and records electrical impulses emitted from the heart. These include the pacing of heartbeats and any irregularities in heart rhythms. An EKG also detects the timing and strength of electrical signals passing through each of the areas of the heart, as well as any damage caused by heart disease, or signs of heart attack. The test only takes a few minutes and is painless to the patient.

Blood Tests—Physicians may perform a blood test to help determine if a heart attack is occurring. When an individual has a heart attack, cells from the heart muscle begin to die. When this occurs, proteins are released into the bloodstream. High levels of these proteins are suggestive of a heart attack.

The following blood tests may be used and repeated to measure and monitor changes in protein levels:

  • Tropin tests
  • CK
  • CK-MB
  • Serum Myoglobin

Coronary Angiography—This test utilizes dye and x-rays to examine the interior of coronary arteries and may be performed during a heart attack to identify blockages. After threading a catheter through the groin, neck, or arm into a coronary artery, dye allows the physician to evaluate the flow of blood through the heart.[4]

Signs of Heart Attack in Men, Often Mistaken for Common Conditions

Many individuals fail to get the help they need in time, because they mistake serious heart attack symptoms for common everyday conditions.

Very real symptoms of heart attack such as, mild chest pain, fullness, and pressure in the chest may be confused with heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, or anxiety.

Nausea and vomiting can be an indication of a heart in distress, though if not accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or tightness, many individuals never make the connection.

Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness may be misinterpreted as low blood pressure or low blood sugar, inner ear imbalance, or fatigue.

Breaking out in a cold sweat can indicate a heart attack, but may be confused with other illnesses or medical conditions such as the flu or other virus.

Shortness of breath, or difficulty catching a breath is also a symptom of heart attack that can sometimes be misinterpreted as anxiety, stress, or asthma.

Neck, back, shoulder, and jaw pain are all common signs of a heart attack in men. Many other conditions including TMJ (temporomandibular joint) produce jaw pain, however. Bursitis and rheumatoid arthritis cause shoulder and back pain, and tension and stress can create neck pain sometimes confusing individuals in cardiac distress.[2]

Gauging heart attack risk in men and helping individuals prevent heart disease has been the mission of many national organizations and medical associations for years. Consumer education continues to be an ongoing priority for these agencies as well. Learning about heart attacks, the identifiable symptoms that can precede the actual cardiac event, and when to get help could mean the difference between life and death for you, or someone you know.


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