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Recognize the Signs – Save a Life

February is home of Valentine’s Day and for many of us our thoughts turned to hearts and love. The month of February is actually Heart Health month – many days of opportunity to reflect on the importance of our cardiovascular health and what we can do to manage our risk for heart disease. There are many resources available through the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada to help guide us. HERE is a link to the resources.

You may or may not have bought your loved ones a gift yesterday. In this month’s write up, I want to focus on a “gift” that will be invaluable and lasting. This gift is learning & reviewing how to recognize the signs of a heart attack. By knowing what the signs are you can act quickly and possibly save your life or that of someone else. Each year thousands of Canadians die from heart attacks but with early recognition & intervention it doesn’t have to end this way.

Signs that someone is experiencing a heart attack can vary and may be different for men & women. In movies we see actors have crushing pain, clutch at their chest & fall to the ground. In reality it seldom happens like this. These are some of the signs to look for:

Chest Discomfort - this can present as pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning or heaviness


Upper body discomfort – neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, or back


Shortness of breath

Light-headedness – feeling weak or faint, feeling unwell

If you or someone else is experiencing any of these signs call 9-1-1. Stay calm and wait for help to arrive. Sometimes the signs are not obvious but just trust your gut if you feel something is just not right.

I have a personal story to share and fortunately it had a good outcome. I – a trained nurse- did not recognize that my own husband was having a heart attack. He came home from work saying he did not feel well & had a headache. He was a little pale, skin cool. I had worked that day too and was busy getting supper on the table for our 3 children & ourselves. When things were ready, he sat down at the table to eat, still not feeling good, no real appetite and burping frequently. I actually said to him “for goodness sakes, if you are not feeling well enough to eat & you’re just going to burp, get away from the table!”

As the evening progressed, he continued to feel unwell, I checked his vital signs, there were some minor changes and while he had no chest pain, he now felt like he could not take a deep breath. Based on this, I felt he should go to ER to be assessed. I felt something was up, knew that some of these symptoms could be cardiac related, but I told myself – how could it be? After all he was only 41, not overweight, a nonsmoker , not really having any pain & had no family history of cardiac issues. Now, for the “icing on the cake” not only did I not recognize what was going on, he then drove himself to ER because our little ones were now in bed! About 2 hours later I got a call from the ER Doctor informing me that he was indeed having a heart attack & he was being sent to Edmonton for further assessment! I felt like a complete foo!!

As I said earlier, fortunately for us, this story had a positive outcome, he suffered no damage to the heart wall. We even joke that my last words to him could have been me telling him to get away from the dinner table.

Joking aside, it drives home the message that signs of heart attack can vary and may be different for each person. It is important not to ignore any of them As well, don’t fall into the stereotypical trap of what you think a heart attack victim looks like – it can happen to anyone!

Recognize the signs –trust yourself- act quickly- you could save a life!

Cheryl Dechaine, RN

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