Heart Attack Warning Signs

Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD

Many people think a heart attack is sudden and intense, like a movie heart attack, where a person clutches their chest and falls over. The truth is that many heart attacks start slowly, as a mild pain or discomfort. If you feel such a symptom, you may not even be sure what’s wrong. Your symptoms may even come and go. Even people who have had a heart attack may not recognize the symptoms of the next attack because the symptoms can feel entirely different. So it is vital that everyone (men and women) learn the warning signs of a heart attack. These include the following:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, which lasts for more than a few minutes, gets worse with physical activity (like walking up the stairs), or goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but it can also occur before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

Learn the signs—but also remember:

Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, you should still get medical attention. Fast action can make all the difference in whether you survive a heart attack and how much damage is done. The sooner the artery can be reopened by medicine or other techniques, the more heart muscle can be saved. Plus, the more likely you are to survive and return to an active lifestyle.

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