Heart attack symptoms: Know what's a medical emergency
Medically reviewed on June 3, 2017
Typical heart attack symptoms
- Chest discomfort or pain. This discomfort or pain can feel like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in your chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.
- Upper body pain. Pain or discomfort may spread beyond your chest to your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. You may have upper body pain with no chest discomfort.
- Stomach pain. Pain may extend downward into your abdominal area and may feel like heartburn.
- Shortness of breath. You may pant for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before you develop chest discomfort, or you may not experience any chest discomfort.
- Anxiety. You may feel a sense of doom or feel as if you're having a panic attack for no apparent reason.
- Lightheadedness. In addition to chest pressure, you may feel dizzy or feel like you might pass out.
- Sweating. You may suddenly break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.
- Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- Heart palpitations. You may feel as if your heart is skipping beats, or you may just be very aware that your heart is beating.
Get help immediately
Heart attack symptoms can vary widely. For instance, you may have only minor chest discomfort while someone else has excruciating pain.
One thing applies to everyone, though: If you suspect you're having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency medical services number.
If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort, if there are absolutely no other options.
Symptoms may not be dramatic
Movies and TV often portray heart attacks as dramatic, chest-clutching events. But, heart attacks often begin with subtle symptoms — such as discomfort that may not even be described as pain.
It can be tempting to try to downplay your symptoms or brush them off as indigestion or anxiety. But don't "tough out" heart attack symptoms for more than five minutes. Call 911 or other emergency medical services for help.
Women may have different symptoms
Women may have all, none, many or a few of the typical heart attack symptoms. While some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is still a common symptom of a heart attack in women, many women have heart attack symptoms without chest pain, such as:
- Pain in the neck, back, shoulders or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain or "heartburn"
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or fainting
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue, possibly for days
Additional information for older adults and people with diabetes
Older adults and people with diabetes may have no or very mild symptoms of a heart attack, so it's especially important not to dismiss heart attack symptoms in people with diabetes and older adults even if they don't seem serious.