The 5 Signs of a Heart Attack. How It’s Not Like the Movies.

We have all seen it. The crushing chest pain that doubles actors over as they attempt to replicate the somewhat romanticized pain that people who are experiencing a heart attack feel. In fact, if you right now were asked to visualize a person having a heart attack, I would bet that the image is similar to the one described. But, it’s not your fault. You have been programmed by pop culture to be ignorant to a very important subject. Subconsciously, movies and tv shows have implanted a misrepresented image in your head that results in an incomplete education about the symptoms of a heart attack.

Research has shown that there is, in fact, 5 signs and symptoms that a person could feel leading to or during a heart attack. The American Heart Association has identified these symptoms as:

1. Chest discomfort or pain

2. Lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting

3. Jaw, neck or back pain

4. Discomfort in arm or shoulder

5. Shortness of breath

Now, the most common symptom is chest pain, but what if I told you that women are more likely to experience other symptoms than men? How can you be expected to know that when the majority of all heart attacks on the television are performed by men? Woman’s symptoms are so misrepresented in pop culture that typically, the woman won’t even go to the emergency room because they are not experiencing classic chest pain.

In 2005, approximately 920,000 people in the USA died of a heart attack. That same year, a telephone survey was conducted to assess the general knowledge of the 5 warning signs and the knowing to notify 9-1-1 if the person thought someone was having a heart attack. The results show that 27% of all people surveyed knew all 5 warning signs with the knowledge to notify 9-1-1, 85-92% knowing the signs of chest pain, shortness of breath, and arm pain, and only 48-62% knowing the symptoms of lightheadedness, jaw pain, back pain, and neck pain. These results mirror the over depiction of chest pain in the media, especially with women being more prone to other symptoms (Disparities in adult awareness…, 2005)

To further cement this hypothesis, here is a clip from an interview of Senator Gary Johnson ad libbing a heart attack:

This demonstrates the universal acceptance of a single entity as a determining factor of a heart attack. And even though it is the most common symptom, singularly subjecting it to the audience level of the whole world, minimizes the awareness of the other 4 symptoms, possibly causing a victim to not seek out immediate treatment.

In light of the social media bombardment of the symptom of chest pain, here is a very good clip, accurately portraying the symptoms one could experience during a heart attack. And, it’s portrayed by a woman:

After watching the second video, we now have a visual database to correspond to our descriptions. Increasing our own education and avoiding these pop culture pushed stigmas will be the only way forward to a higher survival rate for heart attack victims.

American Heart Association. (2016, June). Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from American Heart Association :

Disparities in adult awareness of heart attack warning signs and symptoms — 14 states, 2005. (2008). MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 57(7), 175-179.