Know the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

February 8th, 2016

On Monday, February 8, the Waterloo Record featured a story with Dr. Murray Pearce, Medical Director of the Cardiac Program at St. Mary’s Regional Cardiac Care Centre discussing the importance of knowing the warning signs of heart trouble.

Click here to view the story on the Record’s website.

Don’t ignore the warning signs of heart trouble: experts

By Johanna Weidner

People shouldn’t ignore warning signs of heart trouble, especially those who already have suffered a heart attack.

“These people should not spend a lot of time wondering what it is and get medical attention,” said Dr. Murray Pearce, medical director of the cardiac program at St. Mary’s Regional Cardiac Care Centre.

Warning signs include chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, and light-headedness or fainting. People experiencing those symptoms should seek medical attention. If they’re especially dramatic, seek help immediately, Pearce said.

A heart attack, typically caused by clogged arteries that reduce blood flow to the heart muscle, can also lead to sudden cardiac arrest later. That’s when the heart stops beating because of a disruption to its electrical activity, usually causing instantaneous death.

“We call it an electrical storm,” Pearce said.

It was long thought sudden cardiac arrest happened without warning, but new research found many people experience symptoms in the hours or even months leading up to it. Unfortunately, many ignore the potentially life-saving warnings, according to a long-term study at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

“A lot of people have been ignoring the warning signs,” Pearce said of the research published by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

It tracked sudden cardiac arrest in Portland, Ore., for more than a decade, examining the cases of 839 patients between 35 and 65. Because few people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest survive, researchers relied on medical records and interviews with first responders and family members to pinpoint symptoms.

The most common symptoms found include intermittent chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations and ongoing flu-like symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain and back pain.

The study found just over half of patients (51 per cent) experienced warning symptoms, predominantly chest pain. Of those, almost all experienced them again in the 24 hours before the cardiac arrest. Only one out of five people experiencing symptoms called emergency medical services.

Patients who sought medical help had a survival rate of 32 per cent, compared with six per cent for those who didn’t.

Although the retrospective nature of the study is a limitation, Pearce said, the basic concept is likely valid. People should not ignore warning signs of impending heart trouble — especially those people who have had a heart attack, because the damage to the heart muscle can cause a fatal problem with the heart’s rhythm.

All too often, people ignore the signs of a classic heart attack, too.

“They think it’s just indigestion,” Pearce said.

St. Mary’s is hosting a free education night about heart health for Heart Month, which is February. Experts from the cardiac centre will share simple strategies for a healthier heart.

“People can take control,” Pearce said. “Lifestyle is also very, very important.”

Healthy heart event

St. Mary’s Regional Cardiac Care Centre experts will offer simple solutions for a healthier heart at a free Heart Month event.

Learn about heart disease from a cardiologist, hear heart healthy strategies from a nurse practitioner and get tips on mindful dining out from a registered dietitian.

The talk is Thursday, Feb. 25, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Delta Hotel Waterloo on Erb Street West.

Registration is required because seating is limited. Go to or 519-749-6536 to register by Feb. 18.