Heart attack symptoms: How to tell your shortness of breath is a sign of a heart attack

Heart attacks are a sudden and potentially fatal complication. They are triggered when the heart is starved of blood and oxygen, often due to a buildup of cholesterol – a waxy substance that can clog up your arteries. Delaying a heart attack may prove fatal so acting on the warning signs if and when they appear is essential.


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Insufficient knowledge of the range of symptoms could stymie this effort.

Many people may chalk their symptoms up to less serious conditions.

Shortness of breath, for example, is a common warning sign that is also associated with less serious ailments.

Common causes include a cold or chest infection, being overweight, and smoking.

It can also be a sign of a panic attack.

There are some specific characteristics of shortness of breath caused by heart problems, however.

“Accompanying chest pressure or pain often points to a cardiac cause, explained Dr Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr Bhatt added: “However, even in the absence of any chest pain, shortness of breath, particularly of sudden onset, can be due to heart attack or pulmonary embolism, both of which are medical emergencies.”

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According to the NHS, other signs that your shortness of breath is serious include:

  • It’s lasted for longer than a month
  • It gets worse when you have been active
  • It gets worse when you lie down
  • You have been coughing for three weeks or more
  • You have swollen ankles

What to do in the event of a heart attack

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), it’s essential to dial 999 if you have symptoms that could be a heart attack, or if your heart symptoms get worse.

“Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, it’s really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible,” explains the BHF.

Next, you should:

  • Sit down and rest
  • Take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within arm’s reach
  • Stay calm and wait for the paramedics.


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How to prevent a heart attack

Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).

Eating a heart-healthy diet is a surefire way to stave off the risk.

The NHS explains: “Eating an unhealthy diet that is high in fat will make hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) worse and increase your risk of a heart attack.”

The worst offenders are foods high in saturated fats because they increase levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood, warns the health body.

LDL cholesterol is often branded the “bad” cholesterol because it sticks to your artery walls, hiking your risk of heart disease.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • Pies
  • Fried foods
  • Sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • Butter
  • Ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
  • Lard
  • Cream
  • Hard cheese
  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Foods that contain coconut or palm oil

Physical activity can also help reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease, notes the BHF.

“It can also help you control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve your mental health,” adds the health body.

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