Mention a heart attack to many people and they might visualize a person dramatically clutching their chest and falling down; but the truth is, heart attack symptoms vary and they can be subtle. In fact, one-third of patients who had heart attacks had no chest pain at all.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Some people can have few symptoms and are surprised to learn they’ve had a heart attack. If you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. It is important for you to know the most common symptoms of a heart attack and also remember these facts:
- Heart attacks can start slowly and cause only mild pain or discomfort. Symptoms can be mild or more intense and sudden. Symptoms also may come and go over several hours.
- People who have high blood sugar (diabetes) may have no symptoms or very mild ones.
- The most common symptom, in both men and women, is chest pain or discomfort.
- Women are somewhat more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual tiredness (sometimes for days), and pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw.
Some people don’t have symptoms at all. Heart attacks that occur without any symptoms or with very mild symptoms are called silent heart attacks. The most common warning symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women are:
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. The discomfort usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion. The feeling can be mild or severe.
- Upper body discomfort. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach (above the belly button).
- Shortness of breath. This may be your only symptom, or it may occur before or along with chest pain or discomfort. It can occur when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
While the above are three of the most common heart attack symptoms, they’re not the only ones. Other symptoms include:
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (especially if you are a woman)
- Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) and vomiting
- Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
- Any sudden, new symptoms or a change in the pattern of symptoms you already have (for example, if your symptoms become stronger or last longer than usual)
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack can develop suddenly. However, they also can develop slowly—sometimes within hours, days, or weeks of a heart attack. Any time you think you might be having heart attack symptoms or a heart attack, don’t ignore it or feel embarrassed to call for help.
Call 9–1–1 for emergency medical care, even if you are not sure whether you’re having a heart attack. Here’s why:
- Acting fast can save your life.
- An ambulance is the best and safest way to get to the hospital. Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel can check how you are doing and start life-saving medicines and other treatments right away. People who arrive by ambulance often receive faster treatment at the hospital.
- The 9–1–1 operator or EMS technician can give you advice. You might be told to crush or chew an aspirin if you’re not allergic, unless there is a medical reason for you not to take one. Aspirin taken during a heart attack can limit the damage to your heart and save your life.
Every minute matters. Never delay calling 9–1–1. If you experience symptoms or an actual heart attack in one of the communities that MedStar serves, you’ll meet one of our friendly and knowledgeable crews. They will arrive quickly and are able to provide immediate medical care, including a diagnostic quality electrocardiogram, appropriate medications if needed, and transport to the right facility for your condition. We’re here to help!