What are some of the common warning signs of a heart problem? 19



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Most of us have been touched somehow by heart disease or heart attack. Whether it was a parent, loved one or a friend, the number of people affected by heart problems in Australia is second to none.

The average heart attack victim in Australia is 60-65 years old. It sounds pretty ominous to all the 60 year olds out there reading this, doesn’t it?

We’re shocked by stories of younger people who’ve had heart attacks because their stories stand out as unusual and tragic, but the fact is, heart attack is the leading single cause of death in Australia today in our age bracket. One way we can help reduce these figures is to know and look out for the symptoms, and most importantly, act fast.

The reason we obsess about heart health in the medical profession is that we often lose too many people to heart attacks, and those who we don’t lose often experience unpleasant side effects such as reduced mobility and capability.

The most common signs of heart problems are the ones we are more familiar with. And they should not be ignored.

One of the most common and well known symptoms of a heart attack is severe, crushing pain in the left side of your chest that can travel down the left arm and up the left side of the neck.

This is the typical type of pain associated with a heart attack, and whilst it is the most obvious sign, not all heart trouble shows up with this symptom. There’s also a range of other, signs and symptoms that you should keep an eye out for as well including:

1) Your exercise tolerance has got a little worse and you are finding yourself abnormally puffed out. It could be that you just seem to get short of breath when you take a few extra steps, or it may be that you are doing your usual daily walk, but walking up the hill seems to get you a lot more short of breath than it used to.

If this occurs, it is important to talk to your doctor as it could be a sign of a heart problem.

2) You feel chest pain on the right side of the chest, pain in your jaw, or pain in between your shoulder blades. If you’re exercising and experience any of these symptoms, there could be a problem with your heart and it is important that you take swift action.

3) …Or you experience a series of non-specific symptoms that only happen when exercising or exerting yourself. Severe pain in the left of your chest, nausea or breathlessness can be key signs of heart problems, and if any of them appear, particularly in a rapid way, you should listen to your body and seek medical attention.

What should you do?

If you are getting a sudden onset of chest pain associated with breathlessness and nausea call an ambulance on triple zero (000). The unfortunate fact in Australia today is that 50% of Australians who have a heart attack don’t make it to hospital because they have ignored the early signs of a heart attack.

Don’t worry about looking silly if your symptoms don’t turn out to be a heart condition! No one is ever going to treat you as a hypochondriac if you are checking yourself out for chest pain.

A patient once told me a rather concerning story that makes a good example.

“I was walking between offices, and I finally twigged that the nagging pain I was getting in my chest went away when I got to the other office, each time I stopped exerting myself from the walk. It suddenly dawned on me that this could be my heart,” he said. It turned out he needed five stents put in.

So in closing I ask you to take three things into consideration today:

  • Look at your family history. Did your parents have heart disease? If so, how old were they when they had heart disease? If they were in their 60s and you are in your 60s, speak to your doctor and have a heart check.
  • Take a long hard look in the mirror. If you are overweight, or look there and think, “I could be at risk of a heart attack”, you need to get yourself checked.
  • Do the Heart Age Check to find out your ‘heart age’and take steps to improve your heart health. Seek further advice from your GP.

Heart Age



This post is proudly supported by BUPA’s Blue Room.  Click here to take the Heart Age Test. And visit The Blue Room for more healthy tips.   

Rob Grenfell

Dr Rob Grenfell is the National Medical Director of Bupa Australia and New Zealand. Before joining Bupa, Dr Grenfell was the National Director, Cardiovascular Health at the Heart Foundation and he has also been the Strategic Health Advisor to Parks Victoria and a Senior Medical Advisor at the Department of Health Victoria.

  1. Apparently a platelet abnormality can show you have had a heart attack. While having a problem or two in hospital recently, some blood tests were done. Abnormalities in my platelets (whatever that means) showed I had a small heart attack, but nobody could pinpoint when.

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  2. Good advice. I am having heart tests now and other associated tests, l was ignoring my bodies signals untill a few falls and breaks and on reflection chest pain and breathlessness at times. Hopefully once tests complete l will only need to look at my life style and diet better and due to this wake up call l am already doing so.

  3. I don’t really understand this: it says I have a heart age of 46 (I am 52) but still recommends taking 16 years off my heart health to give me a heart age of 30 yrs? Quite a few questions were irrelevant (relating to work, I’m studying/retired) and asking me my family history (I’m adopted); the suggestions/recommendations included stopping smoking (I don’t) and eating breakfast and lunch (I do) so I would really question the validity of such a superficial testing.

  4. A large number of patients have explained to me over the years that their main symptoms were not ‘pain’.
    Research has been shown that a dull niggle discomfort or a tightness around the chest was more common especially with women.
    I have seen people with aching of the arm only…turned out to be angina symptoms..No chest pain.
    I believe everyone over 60 should ask for a stress test and have their cholesterol checked.
    Almost half of first time heart attacks are fatal. Often because early warnings were denied. Sometimes it is just increased shortness of breath on effort doing something that used to be easy.

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    • My husbands episode began at 11pm on a Wednesday. Sudden onset of crushing pain. He was laying in bed reading. I immediately called the ambulance. They were there in 5 minutes (we live in a rural town close to the ambulance station). The ambos knew straight away what was happening. They got him prepped and into the ambulance and I followed in my car. I could not keep up with them they were going so fast. By the time I arrived at the hospital they had him hooked up to a machine. He then cardic arrested for the first time and I would never wish anyone to see that. They knew from the machines that he had a blood clot and got me to sign a consent form to administer a drug called Lysus (I think I have spelt that wrong). While this was happening he cardic arrested again. Once they admistered the drug it acted like a sand blaster and got rid of the clot. He was very lucky. He survived with only 1% damage to his heart muscle. He was very fit and that day had run his usual 10k. Tests showed that his heart was very healthy with no sign of heart disease. He was just unlucky. That was 10 years ago and he continues to live a very active and healthy life. He is on no heart medication except Lipitor because his heart is fine. It took him about 12 months to recover physically and about 5 years to recover psychologically and mentally. Still effects me to talk about it. I feel very lucky to have him.

    • You are lucky. Enjoy life. Did he get any counseling
      Sounds like he could have done with the psychological side of rehab at the time but hard to access if rural.

    • Darrell Warrington We went to 6 weeks of cardiac rehab at our local public hospital. They were excellent. I think it was like a grieving process and he had to lose the fear that it would happen again. The doctors told him that he had no more chance of it happening to him again than to any other person. Conquering the fear was the big hurdle. He would be fine for months and then something would set him off and he would start crying. The local cardiac support group had no one who had been through his experience. They all had ongoing heart disease whereas he did not. Apparently heart attacks like this are not the norm. For some reason, they don’t know why a blood clot formed. They explained to us that clots can form anywhere in the body. He was transferred to the Wesley in Brisbane and they did an Angiogram and discovered where the clot formed there was a dent in his artery. The artery was constricted by 50%. He was apparently born with it. The specialists debated what to do and eventually decided to put a stent in. This was very successful and the dent popped out. Been fine ever since.

  5. I had a heart attack last September and the only warning I had was pain in my upper back and upper arm and I was shivering even though it was hot!

  6. Tiredness, listless, erratic sleep patterns, breathless, hot and cold flushes and clammyness (hands, arms and forehead). Irritable and angry at the drop of a hat. These are some of my personal experiences.

  7. Massive heart attack just four months ago and the only sudden symptom was excruciating pain between my shoulder blades! Paramedics were fantastic and saved my life! Two stents inserted by great cardiologist and now enjoying life once more!

  8. Yes I too had a heart attack with very little pain except for severe heart burn. I had a stent seven years previous so went to hosp. No treatment there was required. Unfortunately it’s made me paranoid every time I get any pain. Meaning unnessary trips to hosp

  9. I was lucky and survived heart attack and symptoms were not a crushing pain in chest. It was an ache across the chest and down “right arm”. As I had always been told as said in this webpage that symptoms are a crushing and severe pain in chest. Have queried with professionals and heart attack symptoms can show up as all sort of pains and aches. I was advised I was lucky to survive heart attack and triple bypass (and greatful for).

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