The most common reason people die from a heart attack is because they don’t seek help soon enough. They ignore their symptoms or miss them entirely. For a person with diabetes, this is even easier to do, which is scary because those with diabetes are increased risk of having a heart attack. In fact, 65% of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.
Lack of awareness is one of the main problems here. Many people with diabetes don’t know their risk of having a heart attack is greater, and they don’t know that the signs to look for are not necessarily the same as the classic heart attack symptoms. Because of this, heart attacks are more likely to be fatal in those living with diabetes.
Nerve damage may cause people with diabetes to miss the symptoms that would ordinarily alert them to the occurrence of a heart attack. Neuropathy and nerve damage around the heart specifically can cause the warning signs to be less noticeable.
We’ve compiled a list below of classic heart attack symptoms and how they may manifest themselves differently in those with diabetes. Another thing to remember is that women often have different heart attack symptoms than men, so even if you’re a woman who doesn’t have diabetes, some of these symptoms may be things you should watch out for too.
1. Chest Pressure
Chest pain is a common symptom of a heart attack, but for someone with nerve damage, this pain may only be a mild pressure, something you wouldn’t ordinarily get concerned about it. In fact, about a third of heart attack patients don’t report having any chest pain at all! But if you believe you may be at risk for a heart attack, pay attention to this symptom, however slight, and look out for other warning signs. Always better safe than sorry!
2. Shortness of Breath or Heart Palpitations
In a person with diabetes, shortness of breath may seem to come on suddenly and out of nowhere when you have a heart attack. You may feel like your heart is skipping beats as well. If the symptoms are mild or you’re doing something active, these may not seem abnormal, but we urge you to start paying very close attention to your body when these subtle symptoms arise.
Excessive sweating for no apparent reason is another atypical symptom of a heart attack. Again, if you feel anxious and sweaty for no reason, watch out for other symptoms and have a phone near by just in case. Only you know what normal feels like. If it’s abnormal, consider calling your doctor just to be safe.
4. Inexplicable Change in Blood Sugar
One benefit to having diabetes is that you often check your blood sugar, something most people probably only check at their yearly physical. Use that measurement to your advantage! If your blood sugar does something wacky that you can’t explain, there’s a chance it’s trying to alert you to the fact that you’re having a heart attack.
5. Feeling Faint, Dizzy, or Nauseous
You may feel faint or dizzy or even feel the urge to vomit if you’re having a heart attack. Even if you don’t feel sick enough to call 911 right away, be sure to alert someone in your home immediately (or perhaps ask a neighbor or family member to come sit with you for a while) if you feel like you might faint. Someone needs to be able to get medical help for you if you suddenly become unable to do it yourself.
6. Shoulder, Jaw, or Left Arm Pain
Similar to chest pain, these symptoms may be more mild in people with diabetes because of nerve damage. The pain may also manifest itself in other places in the upper body, such as the back or neck.
7. No Symptoms at All
Some people with diabetes have no heart attack symptoms at all. Make sure you get regular check-ups with your doctor, eat healthy, and exercise regularly to ensure heart health!
Yes, we know. You don’t want to go rushing off to the emergency room for every little change in your body. But it’s important to pay attention to the way your body acts and reacts to the activities you do throughout the day, to know what normal feels like, and to be able to recognize when something isn’t okay. If something isn’t quite right in your body, it’s better to be safe and seek medical attention rather than sit at home waiting for things to get worse. If you suspect someone you know is having a heart attack, get them help as soon as possible.
At the very least (for those of you who will still stubbornly refuse to get help until the last minute), tell another responsible person in your household that something may be wrong, get some rest, and make sure the phone is close by, just in case.
The most important thing to do is prevent heart disease in the first place by living a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor to see if there are any specific preventive measures you can take to better your chances of never having to deal with a heart attack. Testing could reveal a problem before it even arises, and early treatment will greatly reduce your risk.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?