Chest Pain – What should you do ASAP?


Most heart attacks develop when small cholesterol plaques in coronary arteries create partial blockages and then rupture.

Platelets, tiny blood cells that trigger blood clotting, create a clot, or thrombus, which builds up on the ruptured plaque.

As the clot grows, it blocks the artery and deprives a portion of the heart muscle of oxygen, resulting in a heart attack.

Many of us know someone who has had a heart attack. There are many scenarios and potential presentations.


What does a heart attack look like?

You’ve probably heard of the guy who was in great shape, ran marathons, ate well and then had a massive heart attack out of the blue.

Other people may present with a constellation of seemingly non-specific symptoms that come on gradually.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, where no one doubts what’s happening.

Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Many times the person affected isn’t sure what’s wrong and waits too long before getting help.

In prior blogs, I have presented numerous lifestyle factors that are intended to reduce your risk for having a heart attack.

This week, I want to present some common signs and symptoms of a heart attack. My advice is to take these seriously and not try to reason through them if either you or someone you know is experiencing them.

Common signs of a heart attack

  • Chest discomfort- Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that can last several minutes, or is intermittent. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body- Other symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Many people mistake a heart attack for heartburn.
  • Shortness of breath- This can occur with or without chest discomfort and many times with minimal exertion.
  • Other signs may include cold sweat, nausea or feeling light headed.


Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.


What should you do if you experience these symptoms?

Learn the signs. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1. Fast action can save lives,  maybe even your own.

Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.

Chew and swallow an aspirin, unless you’re allergic to aspirin or have been told by your doctor never to take aspirin.

Begin CPR if the person is unconscious. If you’re with a person who might be having a heart attack and he or she is unconscious, tell the 911 dispatcher or another emergency medical specialist.

If you haven’t received CPR training, skip the mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and perform chest compressions at about 100 per minute.

If you haven’t taken CPR, there are many classes ongoing.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But recognizing the signs and symptoms can go a long way toward getting the most appropriate intervention, especially if preventative measures have not been part of your lifestyle.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin