What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Some heart attack signs and symptoms are sudden and intense ... the classic “movie” heart attack signs. No one doubts what’s happening when they see these signs and symptoms. But a heart attack usually starts slowly for both men and women, the only signs and symptoms being mild pain or discomfort. Often men and women having a heart attack aren’t sure what the signs and symptoms mean and wait too long before getting help. Women with signs and symptoms of a heart attack typically wait longer, often to their detriment.

The warning signs and symptoms of a Heart Attack can include:

  • Chest discomfort. For both men and women, the classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack usually involve discomfort in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. The pain can be stabbing or crushing, or feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or a burning pain. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Heart attack pain can sometimes feel like indigestion or heartburn.  
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Can include pain, discomfort, or numbness in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.  
  • Shortness of breath. Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.  
  • Other symptoms. May include breaking out in a cold sweat, having nausea and vomiting, or feeling light-headed or dizzy.

Signs and symptoms vary from person to person. In fact, if you have a second heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same as for the first heart attack. Some people have no symptoms. This is called a “silent” heart attack.

The symptoms of Angina  can be similar to those of a heart attack. If you have angina and notice a change or a worsening of your symptoms, talk with your doctor right away.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack so you can act fast to get treatment. Many heart attack victims wait 2 hours or more after their symptoms begin before they seek medical help. This delay can result in death or lasting heart damage.

If you think you may be having a heart attack, or if your Angina  pain does not go away as usual when you take your angina medicine as directed, call 9-1-1 for help. You can begin to receive life-saving treatment in the ambulance on the way to an emergency room.

Heart Attack may cause some or all of these symptoms

  • Pain, pressure, fullness, discomfort or squeezing in the center of the chest  
  • Stabbing chest pain  
  • Radiating pain to shoulder(s), neck, back, arm(s) or jaw  
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing  
  • Pounding heartbeats (palpitations) or feeling extra heartbeats  
  • Upper abdominal pain  
  • Nausea, vomiting or severe indigestion  
  • Sweating for no apparent reason  
  • Dizziness with weakness  
  • Sudden extreme fatigue  
  • Panic with feeling of impending doom
      Note milder symptoms. About a third of women experience no chest pain at all when having a heart attack. Many report flu-like symptoms.
Warning signs of a heart attack include the following:
  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back  
  • Pain or discomfort that radiates to other areas of the upper body (e.g., one or both arms, shoulders, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen)  
  • Shortness of breath (may occur prior to chest pain, may accompany it, or may occur without it)  
  • Lightheadedness or fainting (may occur with or without chest pain)  
  • Cold sweat or paleness (may occur with or without chest pain)  
  • Nausea (may occur with or without chest pain)

Additional symptoms include the following:

  • Clamminess  
  • Indigestion  
  • Intense sweating  
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness, or fatigue

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.