Signs of a Heart Attack and Stroke


By: Ryan Whitcomb, EMT-B
 Communications Manager / Community Outreach, EasCare Ambulance

February is American Heart Month, and unfortunately, most of us know someone who has had a heart attack or stroke. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day.

Both heart attacks and stroke are emergency situations that if not treated, can have serious complications and often result in death. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of either could save a life.

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Heart attacks happen when the blood supply to the heart is reduced or completely blocked. The arteries that supply blood flow to the heart become narrower if there is a buildup of fat and cholesterol, called atherosclerosis. Blood flow to the heart carries the oxygen the heart needs to survive. As the blood supply to the heart is reduced, the patient will start to experience signs and symptoms signaling them the heart is not getting the oxygen it needs.

Early warning signs of a heart attack will include chest discomfort. Patients may describe the pain as a feeling of tightness, pressure or fullness. Sometimes people will think they have indigestion and want to ignore the pain (never ignore any kind of chest pain). In some instances, the pain is described as a sharp or stabbing. Patients may also feel like the pain is radiating into the neck, jaw and arms. The pain usually lasts for more than a few minutes, and it may go away and then come back. In addition to the chest discomfort, patients will complain of feeling short of breath. They may also complain of feeling sick to their stomach, lightheaded and sweating. A “Massive Heart Attack” can also present with no signs or symptoms where the victim suddenly collapses and the heart beats at a rate that is not efficient to carry blood through the body and the patient suffers a sudden cardiac arrest. These victims need immediate Defibrillation & CPR and transportation to the Emergency room. Every minute that passes without Defibrillation & CPR, the patient’s survival rate decreases by ten percent.

A stroke happens when there is impaired blood flow to the brain, According to “Clinical Diagnosis & Treatment Emergency Medicine”, stroke most frequently occurs after the age of sixty and the mortality, or death rate, is forty percent within the first month. Fifty percent of patients who survive will require long-term special care. All emergency rooms in Massachusetts are now considered “stroke centers.” Strokes don’t discriminate; people of all ages can suffer a stroke.

Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

A person experiencing the symptoms of a stroke may notice a sudden numbness or weakness in the arm or leg, usually effecting one side of the body. They may complain of a headache, blurred vision and trouble seeing in one or both eyes. Because of the weakness, the patient may have difficulty walking with loss of balance or coordination. Additionally, the patient will have confusion, slurred speech or difficulty understanding simple commands. When a person is experiencing the symptoms of a stroke, it may be others around the patient who notices these symptoms. It is not uncommon for a family member or bystander to notice the victim is having a stroke before the victim does.

For both heart attacks and stroke, patients who receive early intervention tend to have the best outcomes. In patients having a heart attack, opening the artery within 90 minutes from arrival in the emergency department, either with medications or a cardiac catheterization, is the optimal goal. For patients experiencing stroke symptoms, there is a clot-busting medication that can be given that will assist in decreasing the long-term disabilities associated with stroke. The medication must be given within 3 hours from the start of the stroke symptoms. Time is of the essence in both situations.

For years, EasCare Ambulance and Harbor Health Services, Inc. have worked together to offer the best quality healthcare to the communities that we serve. By sharing medical tips and resources, we are creating a dynamic approach to comprehensive care. Our goal is to promote healthy lifestyles and support our neighbors with both knowledge and reliable services.

Visit EasCare online at and be sure to connect with them on Facebook!


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