Heart attacks are a life-threatening event that is triggered when an artery supplying your heart with blood and oxygen becomes blocked. One of the symptoms is chest pain that spreads to your left or right arm, or to your neck, jaw, back or stomach. The chest pain one may experience can vary markedly.
Worryingly, a higher pain threshold may also prompt some people to overlook their heart attack symptoms.
A report published in the Journal of the American Heart Association examined pain tolerance in 4,849 Norwegian adults aged 50 and older who had recognised and unrecognised (silent) heart attacks.
To determine whether people who are less sensitive to pain are more likely to overlook heart attack symptoms, each participant placed one hand in ice-cold water for as long as possible for up to two minutes, which is known as a cold pressor test.
Researchers then looked at ECG results and hospital records to determine which participants had ever experienced a heart attack — both recognised and unrecognised.
The findings revealed that people with a history of a silent heart attack endured the cold pressor test significantly longer and were less likely to quit the test than those who’d recognised heart attack pain.
The finding is not altogether surprising as chest pain can vary greatly.
“For some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion,” explains the BHF.
Heart attack symptoms can also persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly, it adds.
What to do the event of a heart attack
“If you suspect the symptoms of a heart attack, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance,” advises the NHS.
According to the health body, it’s important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart.
“If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance,” advises the health site.
As it explains, aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.