Heart attack symptoms: Know what's a medical emergency
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jun 28, 2022.
Typical heart attack symptoms
- Chest discomfort or pain. This discomfort or pain can feel like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in the chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.
- Upper body pain. Pain or discomfort may spread beyond the chest to the shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. Some people have upper body pain with no chest discomfort.
- Stomach pain. Pain may extend downward into the belly area and may feel like heartburn.
- Shortness of breath. You may gasp for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before any chest discomfort. Some people don't have 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 feeling 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 think that you're having a heart attack, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.
If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only 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 the 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, many, a few or none of the typical heart attack symptoms. Some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is still a common symptom of a heart attack in women. However, many women have heart attack symptoms without chest pain. Symptoms of a heart attack in women may include:
- Pain in the neck, back, shoulders or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach pain or heartburn
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or fainting
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue, possibly for days
Older adults and people with diabetes may have no or very mild symptoms of a heart attack. Never ignore heart attack symptoms, even if they don't seem serious.