American Heart Month is a good time to ponder, “Do I know the warning signs of heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest?” The clues have been well documented by the American Heart Association1; what follows are abbreviated, easy-to-remember checklists based on its subject matter authority.

Warnings signs of a heart attack:

  • Prolonged or intermittent discomfort in the center of the chest
  • Discomfort elsewhere in the upper body
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Warning signs of a stroke (FAST):

  • Face droops or is numb?
  • Arm is weak or numb?
  • Speech difficulty?
  • Time to call 911 and get to the hospital!

Warning signs of cardiac arrest:

  • No response to tapping on shoulders
  • No normal breathing

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms, don’t wait. Call 911. This knowledge saves lives only when it is acted on promptly and early.

In the event of cardiac arrest, you’ll also want to use an automated external defibrillator—if available or as soon as it arrives—and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This video will walk you through how to do hands-only CPR, which the AHA says can be as life-saving as traditional CPR with breaths.

You don’t have to be elderly or even unhealthy to experience cardiac arrest. Professional and amateur athletes alike have fallen victim. In one of the largest studies of sudden cardiac arrest in trained athletes, the most common cause was found to be an inherited condition called that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that results in an abnormally thick left ventricle.2 In the majority of athletes, physical exertion is the triggering event. The most significant survival factor is how quickly the victim receives heart defibrillation. The AHA website offers a multitude of statistics about the incidence, causes and prevention of this particularly lethal form of heart disease. H2U (Health to You) has an online health library that includes a broad range of heart-related resources.

  1. AHA 2015, American Heart Association Warning Signs of Heart Attack, Stroke & Cardiac Arrest, downloaded Feb. 2015.
  2. American Heart Association. Cardiovascular preparticipation screening of competitive athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996;28:1445–1452.
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Mark Dumond

Mark Dumond, BSBA, RT, is assistant vice president of technology services at HealthTrust. He leads its IT Advisory Board and both tracks technology developments and assists with product evaluations for all HealthTrust clinical advisory boards. His background includes both contracting and clinical operations. Dumond has traveled to 11 countries in South America, Africa and Central Asia to perform medical missionary healthcare assessments related to needed hospital equipment and supplies. More Articles by This Author »