By Mike Van Mil, Paramedic and Canadian Red Cross Digital Volunteer

It’s November, the temperature is -5 degrees, and it’s snowing. June looks outside and decides to shovel her driveway.  Her driveway is not very big and she feels can get it done before her guests arrive. About halfway through shoveling the driveway, June begins to feel a little nauseous.  She tries to finish but the more she continues the more nauseous she gets. Now, she is beginning to get extremely tired. 
snow shovelling
June’s neighbor is walking her dog along the sidewalk and notices June doesn’t seem like herself.  She finds June breathing quicker than she should and looking pale in the face.  The neighbor tells June that she does not appear to be herself and looks pale.  June agrees and says that she doesn’t normally need to take a break from shoveling. She states she is fine and if she just takes a break, she will be okay.  The neighbor, still concerned, calls for an ambulance anyway.  The paramedics arrive and determine that June is in fact having a heart attack

While this was a fictitious account to illustrate some of the soft signs of a heart attack, it is not an uncommon or unrealistic situation. The ‘classic’ symptoms of a heart attack like chest pain, pain that spreads down one or both arms or to the jaw, the shoulder, the neck, or (more commonly in women) the back or the upper part of the stomach, trouble breathing, cold, sweaty skin, skin, lips and fingers that are bluish ashen(grey) or paler than normal and feelings of anxiety, denial or impending doom are more well-known now. However, there are many signs of a heart attack that you wouldn't normally think are heart attack symptoms.  It is important to learn these symptoms so you can recognize them.

Soft signs of a heart attack include:
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Gastric discomfort, nausea or vomiting
  •  Flu-like symptoms
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  •  Unfocused chest discomfort
    •  This discomfort comes and goes, it does not feel like pain, it starts mild and gets continually stronger. It tends to get better with rest and get worse with activity or gets progressively worse.
 Those most at risk of experiencing atypical or ‘soft signs’ of a heart attack are elderly, woman and diabetics. To learn more, sign up for a Red Cross First Aid course and download our First Aid app.

To note, this blog is not a substitute for medical advice and we encourage you to call 911 should you ever be unsure about symptoms.