Ok guys, this is not the time to be macho, “play with pain,” or otherwise tough-it-out. Better safe than sorry may well be a life-saver. While it may be mildly embarrassing to visit the emergency department only to find out it was the “7 jalapeno taco special,” there is no practical way for you to self-diagnose and determine that the pain is not from your heart crying-out that it’s dying. Not unless you have an EKG machine out in the home workshop, and know how to read the results…
So, what’s the deal? Time is muscle – that is, the longer you play with pain, pain which can indicate the muscle cells are dying, the more of your heart muscle is permanently lost, to be replaced by useless scar tissue, a bulging weak spot in your heart.
What causes the pain, you ask? The heart muscle, similar to other muscles in your body, likes to “burn” glucose to stoke its fires. To effectively do so, it needs BOTH glucose and oxygen. That particular metabolic pathway makes very efficient use of all the energy stored in that simple sugar. Where does it get both the fuel and the oxidizer from? The blood! What happens when there’s no blood? Maybe there’s a small clot in one of the little arteries supplying a small section of the heart (if you’re lucky). Just like kinking a hose, nothing flows past, no blood, no glucose, no oxygen. What’s a lonely, starving little heart cell to do? It tries to use it’s emergency supplies! It uses glycogen (a stored form of glucose), and breaks it down for the contained energy without using oxygen.
While the large skeletal muscle cells have a relatively large supply of glycogen, the heart muscle cells don’t. So they burn through their stores very quickly. By the way, when your other muscles switch over to this alternative pathway (anaerobic – no oxygen) and burn glycogen, one of the byproducts is lactic acid – which is responsible for the “burn” when you exercise heavily. That “burn” is a component of chest pain. The difference between heart and skeletal muscle? In the heart, the burn is almost instant – as opposed to the large muscles where it takes some time to develop. This burn is your early warning, because shortly after, the cells begin to die, and for all intents and purposes, they are not replaced with new muscle cells, just scar tissue.
So, what are the classic heart attack symptoms for men?
Shortness of Breath
Chest discomfort – “uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.”
(Which may include the jaw, or arm)
Want to know more?
WebMD – Heart Attack Symptoms In Men
American Heart Association – 911 Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts – Myocardial Metabolism
SportsMedicine – Lactic acid does more than cause fatigue
Stay Well -NurseBob
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