How do I know if I have had a heart attack?

Dede Bonner
Health Education

The first step in diagnosing a heart attack is to be suspicious that one has occurred, especially if you didn’t have the classic crushing chest pains or other typical symptoms. About one-third of all heart attacks lack dramatic symptoms, especially for women.

Your medical team is likely to be fairly certain. Tests can quickly confirm a heart attack, so emergency treatments can be started immediately to restore blood flow and minimize heart damage.

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) records the electrical abnormalities typical of a heart attack and can identify the areas of the heart muscle that were deprived of oxygen and damaged. Blood tests measure the cardiac enzymes (creatine phosphokinase or CPK, special subfractions of CPK, and troponin) that are typically elevated in the blood several hours after a heart attack. A series of blood tests during the first 24 hours confirms the heart attack and the amount of heart muscle that has died.

A heart attack is very different from cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death. A blockage stops blood flow during a heart attack compared to cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops beating due to abnormal or irregular heart rhythms (called ventricular arrhythmias).


The 10 Best Questions for Recovering from a Heart Attack: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

More About this Book

The 10 Best Questions for Recovering from a Heart Attack: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

A good mind knows the right answers, but a great mind knows the right questions. And never are the Best Questions more important than after the life-altering event of surviving a heart attack or...

Continue Learning about Heart Attack

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.