Chest pain is often considered the hallmark symptom of a heart attack, but not everyone having a heart attack experiences the same pain. In particular, women, the elderly, or people with diabetes may experience no pain, or atypical symptoms. If you experience any of the symptoms listed below in combination with chest discomfort, call for emergency medical services right away.
Heart Attack Symptoms
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In general, heart attack symptoms may cause:
- Chest pain—tightness, squeezing, and/or pressure in the center of your chest that may last a long time, or go away and come back
- Discomfort or pain in arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
- Cold sweat
- Nausea or vomiting
- A fear of impending doom or death
In addition to the above, women may have other, more subtle symptoms that may seem confusing, and not so obvious. These may include:
- Extreme fatigue, which may occur days or weeks in advance
- Pressure or pain in the lower chest, upper abdomen, or upper back
- Lightheadedness, which may lead to fainting
Heart attacks can cause severe, permanent damage to the heart, or death. Quick medical treatment is important to increase the chance of survival and decrease the amount of damage to the heart. The sooner the blood flow is restored, the better the outcomes tend to be. Ideally, treatment should be within the first hour after symptoms begin. Do not drive yourself or someone else to the hospital. Emergency medical service personnel can increase the chance of survival and decrease injury by giving treatments while on the way to the hospital.
Acute coronary syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 31, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Heart attack symptoms in women. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2014.
ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 31, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Symtoms and diagnosis of heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Symptoms-and-Diagnosis-of-Heart-Attack_UCM_002041_Article.jsp. Updated March 22, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp. Updated January 15, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2014.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/signs.html. Updated December 17, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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