Heart disease is the nation's No. 1 killer, and the American Heart Association believes about half of those deaths could be prevented if a patient recognizes the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and acts quickly.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, the kind often referred to as "Hollywood heart attacks," in which the patients dramatically clutch their chest and collapse to the floor. But most heart attacks start slowly and less suspiciously, with only mild pain or discomfort, according to the AHA.
The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. It involves discomfort in the center of the chest and lasts for a few minutes before going away. It can feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
But other symptoms can include pain or discomfort in the back, neck, jaw, stomach or arms. There could be difficulty breathing, cold sweats, nausea or lightheadness.
Women are more likely than men to suffer some of the other common symptoms, particularly the shortness of breath and nausea, along with the chest pain. Even though heart disease is listed as the No. 1 killer of women, women often believe the symptoms to be less life-threatening than they actually are. Many initially believe the signs to be symptomatic of minor issues like acid reflux or the flu, even normal aging.
"One in three women dies of heart disease," said Holly Bagyi, the director the AHA office in Charleston. "That's basically one every minute."
Statistics show that a heart attack strikes someone in America about every 34 seconds. But statistics also revealed that most people wait two hours or longer before seeking help. The reasons for delay often are chalked up to people thinking it's just a false alarm or being so afraid of having a heart attack that they deny its occurrence.
"Heart disease is the No. 1 threat to every man, woman and child," Bagyi said. "That's as true in West Virginia as it is nationally."
If a person suspects a heart attack, the AHA recommends seeking help within the first five minutes of the symptoms showing. Calls should be made to the local emergency medical service, ambulance authority or fire department. If there is no access to those services, have someone drive the person to the nearest hospital. People should not drive themselves to the hospital unless it is the absolute last resort.