What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

Men and women sometimes display different symptoms when having a heart attack. The most common heart attack symptoms are: chest pain, chest pressure described as vice-like or squeezing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, breaking out in a cold sweat and shortness of breath. Women often display symptoms of shortness of breath with or without chest pain, pain in one or both arms, jaw or back pain. If you have any of these symptoms that last more than 3-5 minutes you should seek immediate medical attention. You do not have to have all of these symptoms you may only have one or two.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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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.