Heart health: recognising atypical symptoms
Feel short of breath? Dizzy or nauseous, or as though you’re breaking into a cold sweat? What about pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in your chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or even back?
The focus for Heart Week (6-12 May) in 2012 will be to underline the importance of the Heart Foundation’s ‘Warning Signs of Heart Attack’ campaign, says Roberto Pietrobon, spokesman for the Heart Foundation.
‘In Australia, people are not recognising the warning signs of heart attack, and are taking too long to seek appropriate medical help by calling Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance,’ Roberto says.
‘This means that more people are dying, or living with permanent heart damage. We are asking all health professionals to support the Heart Foundation in encouraging their patients to learn the warning signs.’
Many people don’t understand that the above can be signs of a heart attack – instead they’re written off as stress-related, or aren’t recognised because people don’t associate them with heart disease.
To date the campaign has had some success in raising awareness of the atypical and associated signs of heart attack, Roberto says: there’s been increased awareness that a heart attack presents a life-threatening emergency, and people’s willingness to act and call 000 when faced with a symptom has grown. However, there’s more work to be done.
‘Everyone has a role to play in spreading the lifesaving messages of this campaign,’ Roberto says. ‘Health professionals, community leaders, sporting groups, individual community members can all make a valuable contribution by learning the warning signs and sharing this information with patients, colleagues, family members and loved ones.
‘Both pharmacists and pharmacy assistants can reinforce the importance for their consumers and patients to learn the warning signs of heart attack.’
For Heart Week, the Foundation puts together kits each year with promotional materials for general practice and pharmacy.
‘This year we received over 1000 individual registrations with a total of 5,245 kits requested – up from 4,065 in 2011. The kits include posters for use in practice and wallet card action plans for practitioners to give their patients.’
Resources can be downloaded here and wallet cards can be ordered from the Foundation by ringing 1300 362 787.
‘The wallet cards are a great way for pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to provide their consumers and patients with additional support,’ Roberto says.
‘This message is very important for patients with heart disease, so pharmacies can specifically target consumers on heart-related medications, as they may be more at risk of heart attack.’
Heart Week will see memorial services held around the country. There will also be a Victorian Research Awards event held on 8 May, a research workshop, professional forum and Heart Week Walk in South Australia, and the Beat a Path Family Fun Run/Walk in Darwin plus a Spin Bike Challenge.
The Foundation will also promote its successful ‘Go Red for Women’ campaign in June, featuring a free 6-week Healthy Heart Challenge. Registrations will be open from 1 May, and the Challenge commences 4 June.
Participants will select from one of 4 goals: be more active every day; improve everyday nutrition; lower high blood pressure; and lower high cholesterol.
There is good news, though: a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health, published online in Psychological Bulletin, shows that having a positive outlook on life can halve your heart disease risk.
The review of more than 200 studies found that the most optimistic people had a 50% reduction in their heart disease risk compared with those who had lower optimism scores.
‘This research confirms the important role psychological wellbeing plays in heart health and overall physical health,’ says Dr Robert Grenfell, clinical issues director at the Heart Foundation.
‘The links between mental health and heart disease are not yet fully understood, but we know that depression and social isolation are important risk factors for heart disease and that it’s vital to seek treatment early.
‘Depression can be treated with medical and non-medical therapies and we encourage anyone with concerns to call their health professional as a first step.’
What are the warning signs?
- Discomfort or pain in the centre of the chest, including a sensation of heaviness, tightness, pressure or a crushing sensation. Sharp, stabbing pains are generally less associated with having a heart attack.
- Discomfort or pain around one or both shoulders, including a general ache or pressure which spreads from the chest to the shoulders.
- Discomfort or pain in the neck, or a choking or burning sensation in the throat.
- Discomfort, pain, heaviness or uselessness in one or both arms – this can be a feeling of numbness or tingling.
- Discomfort or pain in the jaw, including an ache or tightness in and around the lower jaw on one or both sides.
- Discomfort or pain in the back, including a dull ache between the shoulder blades.
- Feeling nauseous or generally unwell while experiencing other heart attack symptoms.
- There may be a dizzy or light-headed sensation while experiencing other heart attack symptoms.
- The person may break out in a cold sweat while experiencing other heart attack symptoms.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, due to a tight or constricted feeling in the chest.