Lessons from Coach Dantonio: The Signs & Symptoms of a Heart Attack

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

As Coach Dantonio knows and more than a million Americans per year find out, the symptoms of a heart attack can be intense.

"It's like an elephant standing on your chest," said Judy Nash, a support network coordinator with WomenHeart of Southeast Lansing.

"Most people describe it as an elephant sitting on their chest," said Dr. Gaurav Dhar, an interventional cardiologist with the Thoracic Cardiovascular Institute (TCI) at Sparrow Hospital.

"Usually they'll have an overwhelming sense that something is wrong," said Dr. Joel Cohn, a cardiologist with TCI as well. "It's unlike anything they've had before generally."

Although chest pain or discomfort is common, there are some other signs and symptoms to look out for as well. Those can include a radiating pain in the left arm, back or neck pain, jaw pain, dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing and cold sweats. One common condition a heart attack can be confused with is indigestion.

Cardiologists WILX spoke to say that Coach Dantonio is on the younger end of the spectrum for a first heart attack at age 54, but his case isn't uncommon.

"In men we often see first events in the 40 and 50 year-old age groups," said Dr. Cohn.

Risk factors for getting a heart attack include high blood pressure, family history, smoking, cholesterol, physical activity and obesity. The American Heart Association says that men tend to get heart attacks at a younger age than women.

To reduce his risk of a repeat heart attack, Coach Dantonio will have to make some changes.

"I think he's going to have to focus on having a low-fat diet, a graduated exercise program when he recovers and like anyone in a position like his, stress management is important," said Dr. Cohn.

Dantonio likely survived because he received medical attention very quickly. Not everyone who suffers a heart attack is so lucky. American Heart Association numbers show 34% of Americans who suffer a heart attack in any given year will die as a result. To increase your chances of survival, health advocates and doctors have a consistent piece of advice.

"If you even think you're having a heart attack, you should call 9-1-1 before anything else because you might pass out," said Nash.

That's a call that could save your life.


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