A man clutches his chest during a heart attack
Heart & Vascular, Emergency Care

Signs of Heart Attack or Stroke

Your health is too precious to take risks--particularly when you’re having a medical emergency. Warning signs of a heart attack or stroke should never be ignored. Getting immediate care by calling 911 is the safest choice you can make, and it could save your life. Bayhealth’s emergency teams are ready to provide timely care to you or your loved one to minimize the dangerous effects of a heart attack or stroke.

Bayhealth Interventional Cardiologist Roberto Scaffidi, MD, and Bayhealth Vascular Neurologist Ali Sheharyar, MD, emphasize that the outcomes of heart attack and stroke are highly time-dependent. Both typically have a sudden onset and involve a blood vessel blockage which limits the oxygen-rich blood supply needed for our vital organs. 

When this happens in the vessels supplying the brain, it can cause a stroke. When it affects those feeding the heart, it can cause a heart attack. 

The longer you delay getting needed care for a heart attack or stroke, the more damage occurs to your heart muscle or your brain. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. Stroke is the leading cause of disability and ranks fifth nationally for causes of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Don’t wait to see if chest pain or other symptoms go away on their own,” urged Dr. Scaffidi. “If you think you might be having a heart attack, don’t second-guess yourself. It’s always best to be cautious by getting medical attention as quickly as possible.”

He explained that heart attack signs can vary among individuals. Someone may experience a combination of symptoms or just one. For example, women and diabetics tend to have fatigue or nausea more often than chest discomfort during a heart attack. “Waiting significantly increases your risk of dying, or developing heart failure or other life-threatening heart conditions,” he said. 

With stroke, 2 million brain cells die every minute until blood flow is restored, said Dr. Sheharyar.

“There’s a narrow window of time to treat stroke and the hospital is the safest place you can be. The faster you can get treatment the better your chances of a good recovery,” Dr. Sheharyar said. “Don’t try to drive yourself--call 911 right away to get in the hands of a trained medical professional quickly. It can make the difference as to whether you walk out of the hospital afterwards.”

When any of the following signs occur, call 911 immediately: 

Heart Attack Signs

These common heart attack symptoms signal a medical emergency:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest --may feel like a heaviness or tightness and may radiate to the jaw, shoulder or down the arms
  • Unexplained shortness of breath 
  • Nauseated feeling 
  • Dizziness or feeling that you might pass out
  • Breaking out in a heavy sweat
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or arms

Stroke Signs

The acronym BEFAST is a reminder for identifying stroke signs and taking quick action. 

  • Balance – is there a sudden loss of balance? 
  • Eyes– is there a sudden loss of vision, blurred or double vision in one or both eyes?
  • Face Drooping – does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
  • Arm weakness – is one arm weak or numb or does it drift downward when both are raised? 
  • Speech difficulty – is there slurred speech or trouble communicating?
    Time to call 911

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