• Symptoms of a Heart Attack


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    Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack and acting quickly could save your life. Listen as Dr. Gregory Dehmer explains symptoms you should never ignore.

    It’s easy to delay action when a heart attack occurs for this simple reason: You may not think it’s a heart attack. Sudden, dramatic “Hollywood” heart attacks do occur. But a heart attack may also begin with mild pain or pressure in the chest.

    Unfortunately, any delay in taking action can mean greater damage to the heart muscle. For the best odds of saving the heart muscle, a heart attack victim must get to the emergency room immediately, where doctors will try to reopen the blocked artery within 90 minutes of arrival at the hospital. This critical window of time is referred to as door-to-balloon time, because it measures the time from entering through the hospital doors until blood flow is restored to the heart through use of an angioplasty balloon.

    Get to know the heart attack warning signs. Whether you are a woman or a man who wants to be better prepared to take care of the women in your life, get familiar with these symptoms of heart attack that are more common for (but not exclusive) to women. Remember, heart attack symptoms for women can often be subtle and difficult to identify as a heart attack.


    Warning Signs of Heart Attack

    Many heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts longer than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like -

    • Uncomfortable pressure,
    • Squeezing,
    • Fullness, or
    • Stabbing pain.


     Heart attack symptoms include -

    • Chest discomfort
    • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body:  one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
    • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
    • Pounding heart or changes in heart rhythm
    • Heartburn, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
    • Breaking out in a cold sweat
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness

    Warning Signs of Heart Attack in Women

    These heart attack symptoms are more common in women. They may occur without chest pain.  

    • Sudden onset of weakness,
    • Shortness of breath
    • Nausea, vomiting, indigestion
    • Body aches
    • Overall feeling of illness
    • Unusual feeling or mild discomfort in the back, chest, arm, neck or jaw (Remember, these may occur without chest pain and still be a heart attack)
    • Sleep disturbance

    People who have diabetes or are elderly may also experience atypical heart attack symptoms.

    If you or someone you are with experiences any of the symptoms above, get help immediately. Don’t delay. 

    In a heart attack, every second counts. Dial 911 to get to the hospital as soon as possible.

    If you can, chew an uncoated aspirin tablet. This can help slow blood clot formation while you wait for emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to arrive in an ambulance.

    For more on surviving a heart attack, see the SecondsCount Heart Attack Survival Guide.

    Learn from Other Patients’ Stories

    Peggy Vardeman

    Peggy Vardeman has had a number of heart-related health scares. Each time she has noted back pain, nausea and sweating, never the stereotypical crushing chest pain portrayed in the movies. “I’m a perfect example of women experiencing different symptoms than men,” she says.

    Read Peggy’s story to learn more about women and cardiovascular disease.