What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Symptoms of a heart attack include but are not limited to chest pain or discomfort. Sometimes people having a heart attack experience the following:

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea/vomiting
  • sweating
  • back, arm or jaw pain
  • excessive fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • stomach pain

Women’s symptoms may differ from men’s symptoms.

Symptoms of a heart attack include a feeling of pressure, squeezing pain, or fullness in the middle of your chest region. This feeling may endure for several minutes. Other symptoms for men include pain radiating from the chest to the shoulder, arm, back, and jaw, having trouble breathing, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms of a heart attack manifest differently in women and may include fatigue, clammy skin, abdominal pain, heartburn, and lightheadedness. Although these are common symptoms of a heart attack, not everyone experiences the same symptoms.

Become familiar with these warning signs of a heart attack:
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • pain or discomfort in your arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • indigestion or nausea
  • light-headedness
  • tiredness or fatigue
You may not experience all of these symptoms, and they may come and go. Chest pain that doesn't go away after resting may signal a heart attack. Diabetes can cause nerve damage that can make heart attacks painless or "silent." If you have warning signs of a heart attack, call 911.
Common symptoms of heart attack include chest pain or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes and doesn’t go away with rest. There may be upper body discomfort, and shortness of breath. Other possible symptoms of a heart attack include breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling unusually tired for no reason, nausea (sick to your stomach) and vomiting, and light-headedness or sudden dizziness.

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate treatment. Call 9-1-1 or have someone drive you to the emergency room to get checked out immediately. Do not wait to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

This content originally appeared online in "The Patient Guide to Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery" from the Society of Thoracic Surgery.
The symptoms of a heart attack are like those of angina (discomfort, pain, or tightness in the chest, arm, shoulder, back, neck, or jaw caused by a temporary lack of oxygen to the heart muscle), but the pain of a heart attack is usually more severe and prolonged.

During a heart attack, you may also have one or more other symptoms. These include nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, light-headedness or dizziness, sweating, and discomfort in your arms, neck, jaw, or stomach. The symptoms of a heart attack can come on suddenly or can build over several hours.
It is important to know and recognize the various symptoms of a heart attack. You must keep in mind that not all heart attacks cause chest pain; sometimes symptoms can be subtler, such as upper body discomfort or sudden nausea or fatigue. When heart attack symptoms strike, any delay in seeking treatment can result in heart muscle damage and/or death.
Heart attack symptoms may not be sudden or dramatic like in the movies, so don't wait until symptoms are severe or unbearable. The warning signs of a heart attack are:
  • discomfort that spreads from the chest to the shoulders, neck and arms
  • pressure or squeezing pain in the chest that may spread into the neck, shoulders and arms
  • nausea, breathlessness, sweating or fainting with pain in the arms, chest or neck
  • feelings of impending doom
  • significant fatigue
  • indigestion
  • weakness in the arms
If you have heart disease, you should know the symptoms of a heart attack so you can get immediate medical help if symptoms occur. Not all heart attacks begin with sudden, crushing chest pain, especially for women, for whom heart attack symptoms often are milder and less specific.
Recognizing the symptoms of heart attack in women may not always be as clear-cut as it is for men. The most prominent symptoms that are sure signs of trouble that women should keep an eye out for are:
  • Pressure, tightness, fullness and discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that comes and goes in waves
  • Pain or pressure that spreads to the shoulders, between the shoulder blades, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms
  • Jaw or throat pain
  • Crushing chest pain
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and/or dizziness
  • Cold sweat, paleness
  • Overwhelming fatigue or weakness
  • Abdominal pain
Women often mistakenly think only severe chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack and delay seeking medical care. I’ve heard many patients who feel that doctors either didn’t take them or their symptoms seriously. Be persistent. You know your body and when you aren’t feeling well. Seek the medical attention you need and deserve.

The classic symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain—a squeezing steady pain in the middle of the chest
  • Pain in the left arm and hand
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Although these are the classic symptoms, today most people have only one or two of these symptoms. Sometimes people have very different symptoms, such as:

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Neck and jaw pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness, or a feeling like you might pass out

Men are more likely to experience the classic symptoms of a heart attack. This is less true for women.

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If you, or someone you love, experience one or more of the following heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately:
  • Chest discomfort, particularly in the center of the chest. It may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Discomfort can last for more than a few minutes, or it can come and go.
  • Unusual pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as the jaw, the neck, the back, the arms (one or both) and/or the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, which can precede or be accompanied by chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms may include a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
Dr. Kelly Traver
Classic heart attack symptoms are sudden tightness, squeezing, or pressure over the chest. The pain can radiate up the neck or jaw or down the left arm. Other symptoms called associated symptoms can also occur. These include sweating, nausea, light-headedness, and shortness of breath. Not all of these symptoms occur; sometimes, there is no actual chest pain, just the associated symptoms.

Sometimes, a blood vessel doesn't close off quickly-the process is gradual, with slow plaque buildup. Chest pain in this process is called anginait often occurs during exercise, when your heart demands more blood flow. It can also happen after having an emotional conversation or a big meal. A person will feel the same type of chest tightness or pressure as in a heart attack, but the chest pain will go away in a few minutes once the physical activity is stopped. Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack or angina is important because acting quickly can save your heart from permanent damage.
The most common signal of a heart attack is persistent pain, discomfort or pressure in the center of the chest that lasts longer than three to five minutes or goes away and comes back.

A person may describe it as squeezing, tightness, aching or heaviness.
The most common signs of a heart attack are:
  • chest pain or discomfort (can feel like pressure, fullness, or squeezing)
  • discomfort in upper body (could be an arm, back, neck, jaw, or stomach)
  • shortness of breath
  • cold sweat
  • nausea
  • sudden extreme fatigue (without lack of sleep)
That said, half of all people who have had heart attacks never felt a symptom-or at least, never recognized it as a symptom. Many people want to ignore the discomfort that often comes and goes, and they even rationalize symptoms as heartburn or a muscle pull.

(For any chest pain, you should at least take an aspirin with a glass of water in case it is a heart attack-and call an ambulance if the pain persists or you have the other symptoms I mentioned.)

Part of the problem is that heart attacks happen in very different ways-and the discomfort can come and go, which makes it easier to blame it on something else, like digestive upsets.

The pain or discomfort can be unpredictable because the heart itself does not feel pain; it does not have specific pain fibers. The heart's nerves are not sensory nerves. But when something is going wrong with the heart, its nerves may become electrically unstable. And when they cross the spinal column, they may short-circuit other nerves-nerves that connect with your arm, for example, or your chest. And those nerves are the ones that transmit the pain impulses. So your arm aches, or your chest, or your jaw, wherever nerves are shorting out. The brain sometimes also joins the action by stimulating the vagus nerve to cause an upset stomach and a cold sweat.

So remember that half of folks who have heart attacks will not have classic symptoms like you see in the movies. This is especially confusing for women because many people mistakenly believe that men have heart attacks at a higher rate (in fact the numbers are nearly identical). Better to get checked out by a doctor if you are concerned.
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Joan Haizlip, MSN
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The most common signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • chest pain or discomfort (pressure, tightness, heaviness, squeezing)
  • shortness of breath
  • cold sweats, nausea and dizziness
  • pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw and shoulder
Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

A heart attack can be indicated by any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness or squeezing sensation in mid-chest, shoulder jaw or arms
  • Irregular heart rate (palpitations)
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Pale, ashen skin
  • Shortness breath
  • Anxiety, sense of impending doom

It is important to realize your risk for heart disease and the symptoms of heart attack so that you can respond quickly.

Major symptoms of heart attack are:

  • Feeling pressure, fullness or pain in the center of the chest for more than a few minutes
  • Experiencing an uncomfortable feeling that moves into the neck, jaw, arms, or shoulder
  • Having trouble breathing
  • Feeling dizzy, sweaty, faint, or nauseous while experiencing an uncomfortable feeling in the chest

These are the major symptoms of heart attack but there are other less common symptoms you should discuss with your doctor, including:

  • Abdominal or mid-back pain
  • Indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue

In the event that you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 or an emergency medical professional for help—even if the symptoms subside after a few minutes.

Dr. Chetan A. Patel, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
The classic symptom associated with a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort. The chest pain is often described as a pressure or tightness (“ton of bricks on my chest” or “elephant sitting on my chest”) but the pain can be of any type. It is important to remember that not all patients experience chest pain when having a heart attack. They may present with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, indigestion/heartburn, nausea, diaphoresis (sweating), left arm pain, back pain, or neck/lower jaw pain.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Eric Olsen
Fitness Specialist
The classic symptoms of heart attack include pain anywhere from the head to the hips, not just the typical pain in the chest or left arm. But pain isn't the only symptom, and sometimes a heart attack can begin without pain at all. Shortness of breath, palpitations, sensations similar to gastric upset, the feeling of a heavy weight on the chest, and overwhelming fatigue can also indicate coronary insufficiency and impending trouble. These symptoms, alone or in combination, require immediate attention from a physician. Under no circumstances should you try to work through this pain.
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Dr. Mary A. McLaughlin, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
Symptoms that may appear in both men and women include experiencing:
  • Chest pressure (fullness of chest, squeezing of chest, pain in center of chest)
  • Pain that spreads to the inner side of the left arm
  • Pain that radiates to the jaw, upper back or neck
  • Pain in the upper part of the stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
If you believe you or a loved one is having a heart attack, stroke or other serious health problem, please call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency department immediately. Time is muscle; the faster you get to the ED, the less potential heart damage.
Dr. Imran K. Niazi, MD
Cardiac Electrophysiologist
Heart attack refers to a condition in which one or more of the coronary arteries (arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle) become blocked by a blood clot or cholesterol. This may occur at any time and has many different symptoms. Some patients feel discomfort in the pit of the stomach and put it down to indigestion. Others feel a pressure or heaviness in the chest ("like an elephant standing on my chest"). Frequently, the symptoms are accompanied by shortness of breath, weakness and anxiety, and, sometimes, patients break out into a cold sweat or feel faint. Discomfort in the chest moving to the jaw or arm is particularly worrisome since this is usually a sign of an impending or actual heart attack.

Surprisingly, about one in five people have no knowledge that they are having a heart attack. They may feel ill or weak for a while and put it down to the flu. We call this a "silent heart attack."

There are other conditions that mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. Spasm of the food tube muscle (esophageal spasm), caused by too much stomach acid, can result in similar discomfort, as can gall bladder disease or blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). In general, it is best to seek medical help immediately when symptoms suggest a heart attack.

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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.