Heart disease is second to cancer as the leading cause of death in Minnesota. February is American Heart Month and a great time to educate ourselves about this vital organ. Because seconds count during a heart attack, the lack of knowledge truly is deadly considering heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women.

At The Urgency Room (UR) in Vadnais Heights, we often see patients who are experiencing a heart attack. Many don’t experience the common chest pains often associated with a heart attack and therefore are unaware of what they are experiencing. In fact, 43% of women having a heart attack don’t experience any chest pain at all. Because their signs are so much less obvious, women wait longer to go to the ER than men do - this waiting can be fatal. Your odds of surviving a heart attack improve by 23% if you get treatment within three hours, and 50% if it’s within one hour.

Here are some of the other heart attack red flags:

Nausea or Dizziness

Prior to a heart attack, some sufferers have indigestion or even vomit. Patients have also reported feeling like they’re going to pass out.

Mild Pain

Instead of that “elephant on the chest” feeling, some patients feel a less severe pain. In some cases this pain is not in the chest, but rather in the breastbone, shoulders, back, neck or jaw.

Extreme Exhaustion

In the hours or even days leading up to a heart attack many patients feel marked fatigue. They are too tired to cook dinner or even get up from the couch to walk to the bathroom. Patients also report being breathless and unable to carry on a conversation because they just can’t catch their breath.

Dripping with Sweat

Some patients find themselves drenched in sweat for no apparent reason. They may also appear pale.


Many patients report having trouble falling or staying asleep the weeks before a coronary event.


Women in particular have experienced a sense of impending doom or fear before a heart attack. This can be your body’s way of telling you to pay attention to your instincts, especially coupled with other signs.

It never hurts to be seen, even for mild symptoms. The emergency physicians and staff at The Urgency Room are fully equipped to run blood tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG) to find out if your heart is in trouble or not. If your symptoms are more severe, call 911 immediately. Also, keep aspirin handy at home and in your purse. Chew and swallow one aspirin with water as soon as symptoms start. This can help prevent blood clotting.


-— Dr. Kurt Belk is an ER physician and medical director of The Urgency Room in Vadnais Heights.

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