Heart Attack Symptoms

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team | Published on November 17, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on November 17, 2014

Heart Attack Symptoms

The symptoms of a heart attack are not the same for everyone. Sometimes heart attacks are sudden and excruciating, but often, they start out slow with mild discomfort. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, one study found that one-third of people who had a heart attack had no chest pain. These people were likely to be older, female, or diabetic.

Some people have no symptoms. This is called a silent heart attack. The most common symptoms of a heart attack are listed below.

Chest Pain or Discomfort

The most common symptom of heart attack is chest pain. This discomfort is typically felt in the center or on the left side of the chest. It usually lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. This discomfort may be mild or severe. It may feel like:

  • uncomfortable pressure
  • squeezing
  • fullness
  • pain

The chest pain associated with heart attack is the same as the chest pain common in people with coronary artery disease (angina). Angina, however, usually lasts only a few minutes and goes away with rest. Chest pain different from usual angina that lasts longer or occurs during rest could be a sign of a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention for either of these situations. Angina could be a warning sign of a future heart attack.

Pain or Discomfort in Other Areas

The onset of a heart attack can be associated with pain in parts of the upper body, including:

  • one or both arms
  • back
  • left shoulder
  • neck
  • jaw
  • stomach

Shortness of Breath

Someone experiencing a heart attack commonly has difficulty breathing. This may occur with or immediately before chest discomfort.

Other Common Symptoms

Other common symptoms include:

  • cold sweat
  • nausea or vomiting
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • sleep problems
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • impending sense of doom
  • prolonged pain in the upper abdomen 

Men and women may experience heart attack symptoms differently. The most common symptom for both genders is chest pain. According to Harvard Health Publications, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. Additionally, women are less likely to seek immediate medical attention for symptoms that could indicate heart attack. For that reason, they should be much more aware of possible symptoms. Women are more likely to experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  •  pain in the back or jaw
  • heartburn or abdominal pain
  • clammy skin
  • unusual fatigue

Addressing Symptoms Quickly

Most importantly, get help immediately if you are experiencing any heart attack symptoms. Heart attack treatments are most effective if started within one hour of when symptoms appear. Many people ignore the symptoms of a heart attack for too long, and it proves fatal. Call 911 for immediate medical attention and rapid transport to the hospital.  

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