If you think you or someone around you is having a heart attack, don’t delay – seek immediate emergency medical attention.

Classic signs to watch for include chest pain, trouble breathing, dizziness and profuse sweating. Some of the more subtle signs include back pain, headache, jaw pain, swelling and cough.

Tomisha Byard, a family nurse practitioner with Regional One Health, urges all patients to take cardiac symptoms seriously, and to see their primary care provider about how to assess and manage their risk.

A heart attack isn’t always like what you see on TV, with the victim clutching their chest and collapsing. Heart attacks can be dramatic and sudden, but symptoms can also be more subtle.

No matter what, a heart attack is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone around you is having a heart attack, seek immediate care in the emergency room.

What should you watch for? Tomisha Byard, MSN, FNP-BC, a family nurse practitioner at Regional One Health, said it’s important to know the signs. “A lot of the symptoms can be subtle – especially in women, but in men, too,” Byard said. “It’s important to know what to watch for.

“If you think you’re having a heart attack, get to the emergency room. The sooner you get care, the better your outcome is likely to be.”

Byard listed several classic signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain, heaviness or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Sweating profusely
  • Tomisha Byard is a family nurse practitioner at Harbor of Health. She can help patients manage their risk for heart disease through preventative care.

    A feeling of doom

  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations

She said other signs are less obvious and may be easier to miss:

  • Back pain
  • Headache or jaw pain
  • Swelling in the legs or arms
  • Coughing

Byard explained the last two occur when the heart isn’t able to pump blood effectively. That can cause fluid to pool in the extremities, causing swelling; or excess fluid that causes coughing.

While you should always have these symptoms checked at an emergency room, they could signal something other than a heart attack, like chest wall trauma or a respiratory problem. Or, it could be a non-emergency cardiac issue that needs to be addressed.

At that point, it’s time to see your primary care provider or a specialist.

Primary care providers will examine you and help you make lifestyle changes like eating better, getting more exercise, getting more sleep and drinking more water. They will check your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight to determine additional treatment needs.

They might refer you to a specialist, like a cardiologist, for further testing and treatment.

Headache, jaw pain and back pain can be subtle signs of a heart attack. Patients who think they are having a heart attack should seek immediate emergency medical care.

Byard said patients with a high risk of heart disease must be especially vigilant about going to regular checkups and following their provider’s advice. Risk factors include:

  • A family history of heart disease
  • Age: Heart disease is more prevalent the older we get
  • Race: African-Americans are at a greater risk for heart problems
  • Gender: More men than women experience heart attacks
  • Weight: Obesity is a major risk factor

Bottom line, Byard said patients must always take cardiac symptoms seriously.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, go to the emergency room. If you want to assess and reduce your risk for cardiac issues, go to your primary care provider for regular screenings.

“It’s important for patients to see us regularly and be honest about their concerns and lifestyle,” Byard said. “We’re here to help, and we can cater our discussions to their individual needs.”

Byard sees patients at Harbor of Health. For an appointment, call 901-515-4200.