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Five signs of a heart attack

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women. Each year, it kills 610,000 people in the US, which equates to one of every four deaths.

People often stay at home convincing themselves that they only have indigestion and don't come to the emergency department to be assessed for heart attack. There is only six-hour window from when a heart attack begins before the damage occurs.

To help identify heart attack, look for these signs.

1. Chest discomfort

Look for pain, pressure, heaviness and squeezing. This will usually last more than a couple minutes, and the pain can return if it has subsided. It isn't normal to have pain anywhere from below your nose to your belly button, as well as to each of your arms. Chest discomfort in relation to heart disease is hard to diagnose when moving or walking. It can also wake you from sleep, feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest.

2. Shortness of breath

With or without chest pain, shortness of breath can indicate a heart attack. It can happen during activity or rest, or even while sleeping.

3. Back pain

Back pain can be a sign of heart attack, especially if it is difficult to identify the pain's origin. Get help if pain begins in the chest and spreads to the back. If you find discomfort exerting yourself and it stops when you rest, you should also seek care.

4. Jaw pain

Most likely caused by muscular or other issues, jaw pain can be a signal of heart attack, particularly if it began as pain in your chest. Jaw pain can also be a sign of a heart attack. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience this.

5. Sense of exhaustion

Exhaustion or feeling over-tired may be cause concern. If you are feeling tired all the time and having difficulty performing normal activities (walking, climbing stairs, etc.), you should seek care.

Susan Somerville, RN, is vice president of clinical transformation at Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she is helping guide the hospital's expansion, including the construction and development of a new $60 million critical care tower that will house the East End's most comprehensive advanced cardiac program, the Kanas Regional Heart Center. Ms. Somverville was formerly president of Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan and held several key leadership positions within Northwell Health, including executive director of North Shore University Hospital.

"Look for pain, pressure, heaviness and squeezing. This will usually last more than a couple minutes, and the pain can return if it has subsided."
— Susan Somerville, RN
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