Heart Attacks on the Big Screen Leave a False Impression of Real-Life Symptoms

Heart Attacks on the Big Screen Leave a False Impression of Real-Life Symptoms

When we think of heart attacks, we often find ourselves picturing scenes from the movies. We remember that moment in Something’s Gotta Give where Harry (Jack Nicholson) collapses in pain after fooling around with his girlfriend, Marin (Amanda Pete). He flails about, wincing in pain, trying to deter Erica (Diane Keaton) from performing CPR. We think of the moment in The Godfather when Don Vito Corleone collapses suddenly while playing with his grandson in the tomato garden, dying almost instantly. We may even think of the silliness from Monty Python And The Holy Grail where the animator conveniently has a sudden heart attack while our protagonists are being chased by a deadly cartoon beastie. 

These depictions are mostly of men seen gripping their chests dramatically as they fall to the ground, writhing in agony. If it’s not this obvious iteration, it’s something played for laughs where the character merely drops dead. While, in some instances, heart attacks can manifest in a dramatic display of distress, more often than not they’re nothing like the movies at all.

The reality, however, is much different and the symptoms of a heart attack may not be as obvious as Hollywood would have us believe. What’s more important is the symptoms can vary wildly depending on your gender. Men, for instance, tend to suffer more of the commonly known symptoms such as pain in the left arm and tightness in the chest. Other symptoms can include breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling pressure in your chest, or pain that radiates up the neck and into the jaw.

Women, on the other hand, actually exhibit more symptoms when suffering a heart attack, and they’re distinctly different. These include heart palpitations, lower chest pain specifically, back or jaw pain, unexplained fatigue or anxiety, nausea, shortness of breath, and dizziness on top of the pain radiating up the neck and pressure in the chest. But because of the way heart attacks are portrayed in film and television, most women wouldn’t think they were having a heart attack because of the absence of male telltale signs like left arm pain and weight in their chest. 

This lack of awareness and representation in popular media can also make heart attacks more lethal for women. Typically, more men suffer from heart disease. However, due to the fact that most people only recognize the symptoms that present in men, women are more likely to die from a heart attack

On top of the gender differential when it comes to heart attack symptoms, it’s entirely possible to have what’s known as a silent heart attack. Also known as silent ischemia, they can happen without presenting any symptoms, hence their name. 

Depicting heart attacks in film as big, overblown, dramatic moments is great for entertainment value. However, the broad impact of such portrayals can be dangerous and even lethal for the general public. It’s important to know what to look for, and to listen to your body.   

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