It’s not always easy to tell what’s wrong when you don’t feel well. Some symptoms can go unnoticed, while other signs of serious illnesses are so common we may ignore them. Knowing the signs of serious illnesses like heart attack and stroke helps protect your organization and community and can prevent an otherwise tragic outcome. Here’s what to know:

Signs of Serious Illnesses: Heart Attack

It’s not always easy to tell if something’s wrong with your heart. Everyone has aches and pains, but it’s important to know when discomfort could be a sign of something more serious.

1. Chest discomfort

Chest discomfort can include sensations of pain, tightness, pinching, burning, or pressure. The pain doesn’t go away after a few minutes and may worsen. This is a common sign, but it’s not universal.

2. Radiating pain

Pain that spreads to the arm, shoulder, back, jaw or throat. It often starts in the chest and moves outward. Some mainly have arm pain. Pain that suddenly radiates out to the jaw or throat from the chest isn’t likely to be a sinus problem or pulled muscle.

3. Nausea or indigestion

Nausea, heartburn and stomach pain are common symptoms in everyday life. On their own, they usually don’t signal a heart attack. But in combination with other warning signs, these everyday complaints could be a sign of something more serious.

4. Other signs

Some other heart attack signs to look out for include:

  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath

It’s more likely one of these symptoms could be heart related if you have certain conditions. Common risk factors for a heart attack include:

  • Age of 45 or older for men, and 55 or older for women
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

The more risk factors you have, the more cause for concern. If you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack, call 911. Immediate medical attention can save a life.

You should also consider equipping your buildings with AEDs and teaching your members CPR.

Signs of Serious Illnesses: Stroke

Stroke can quickly lead to disability or even death but recognizing the signs and acting quickly helps improve outcomes and lead to a faster recovery. Common signs of a stroke include:

1. Numbness

Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms or legs is a sign of concern. If the symptom affects one side of the body more, this could be a sign of stroke. If you or someone else suddenly feels numbness or weakness, check for other signs of a stroke right away.

2. Vision Problems

With a stroke, you may have sudden dim vision, blurred vision or loss of vision. Sometimes the symptom affects one eye. It may get worse over time. Other symptoms occurring with vision problems are common. Help should be sought immediately.

3. Loss of Balance

Stroke sufferers often have problems with coordination. The loss of balance can come on suddenly and accompany other related symptoms like dizziness, nausea or vomiting.

4. Other Signs

Other common signs that appear with stroke include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Sudden, severe headache

The acronym FAST provides a simple way that can help you recognize stroke and act:


Ask the person to smile or show you their teeth. Stroke will often reveal a one-sided facial weakness resulting in drooping features.


Have the person to close their eyes and raise both arms. With stroke, one arm may be lower than the other or sag down involuntarily.


Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase like, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” Listen for slurred speech or words that sound unusual.


If you suspect stroke, call 911 immediately. Because stroke results in lack of blood and oxygen to the brain, time is of the essence. Quick action can save a life.


The more people at your organization who are aware of the warning signs of serious illness, the better. Each year, many ignore the signs of heart attack, stroke and other medical emergencies, leading to thousands of preventable deaths. Knowing the signs of serious illness can ensure you know when to act and get help. If you believe you or someone else is showing signs of a heart attack, stroke or other serious illness, don’t wait. Call 911 right away for medical attention.