A heart attack happens when an artery that feeds oxygen-rich blood to the heart becomes obstructed. The heart muscle begins to die, and heart attack symptoms begin.
Call 911 immediately if you experience the following heart attack symptoms for two minutes or more:
- Sudden shortness of breath.
- Sudden sweating or flu-like symptoms, including nausea, clamminess or cold sweats.
- Unusual fatigue, light-headedness, weakness or dizziness.
- Pain that radiates. Men and women often experience this pain differently, as explained below.
- Intermittent pain that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. This sensation can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness.
- Anxiety or a feeling of doom.
- If you have angina: Any change in the frequency, duration or intensity of symptoms, which do not respond to nitroglycerin.
Symptoms Can Be Different for Men and Women
Men and women experience heart attack symptoms in slightly different ways. The main difference is how pain radiates.
- For men: Pain will spread to the left shoulder, down the left arm or up to the chin.
- For women: Pain can be much more subtle. It may travel to the left or right arm, up to the chin, shoulder blades and upper back — or to abdomen (as nausea and/or indigestion and anxiety). Women are also more likely to experience these accompanying symptoms: shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain. Read an in-depth overview of heart attack symptoms for women here.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. Surviving a heart attack depends upon how well you recognize and react to these symptoms. Remember that "time is muscle." The sooner you receive medical care, the sooner heart muscle can be saved.
What is Chest Pain?
When medical professionals talk about chest pain, they're talking about the pain and discomfort that can be an early sign of heart attack. There are many ways to describe this pain, including tightness or unusual pressure in the center of the chest.
While pain can radiate to the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back, people often mistake this pain for indigestion, which can be dangerous.
Because heart attack symptoms in women can be so subtle, heart attacks in women frequently go unrecognized. Unfortunately, treatment is sought long after symptoms are initially felt.
If you're experiencing the heart attack symptoms listed here, call 911 immediately.