What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

  • Sudden chest pain or pressure (also called angina) that worsens. This may be felt as discomfort, heaviness, or pain. May also be felt in the back, jaw, throat, arm or below the breastbone.
  • Feeling as if a belt is being tightened around your chest
  • Pain that spreads from the center of the chest to your arms, shoulders, neck or jaw
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sick to your stomach, nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like "heartburn")
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Extreme weakness, anxiety

Why do people delay?

Many people don’t recognize the symptoms of a heart attack (see list). The image we get from TV and movies is that a heart attack is a dramatic, chest-clutching event, yet this is rarely the case. Arm pain may signal a heart attack. Or shortness of breath. Or even an awareness of sweating.

Some people mistake heart attack symptoms for heartburn, take an antacid and wait for it to work. Many people will call 911 for someone else, but not for themselves.

Many people feel they will be embarrassed if they call 911 and they are not in fact having a heart attack. But don’t be embarrassed to death – heart attacks are the leading cause of death in both men and women.

Know in advance

  • The symptoms of a heart attack.
  • If you are at risk for a heart attack. Ask your doctor about your risk and what you should do to reduce your risk. Be sure to ask about aspirin and nitroglycerin.
  • Who to call for emergency help. Do not call a friend or family member. Call for an ambulance to take you to the nearest emergency room (Dial 9-1-1 in most areas).

Share this information with your family members and caregivers so they can recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and when to seek emergency treatment.

Remember

  • Learn to recognize your symptoms and the situations that cause them.
  • Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/25/2019.

References

  • McSweeney J, Cody M, O'Sullivan P, Elberson K, Moser D, Garvin B. Women's Early Warning Symptoms of Acute Myocardial Infarction. Circulation. 2003; 108(21):2619-2623
  • ACC/AHA 2007 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Unstable Angina/Non–ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction._ Circulation. _2007;116:e148-e304, June 27, 2017.
  • ACC/AHA 2014 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Unstable Angina/Non–ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction._ Circulation. _2014;130:e344-e426., September 23, 2014.

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