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Early Signs of Heart Attack

Signs of a Heart Attack


What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction) is a medical emergency, requiring immediate medical attention. A heart attack occurs when an artery supplying blood to the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. Without blood flow, the heart muscle is starved of oxygen tissue loses oxygen and dies. The damage worsens the longer the artery stays blocked.

Heart Attack Symptoms

While some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most begin slowly, with mild pain or discomfort.

Some of the symptoms to look for include:

  • Chest pressure, squeezing or discomfort lasting more than a few minutes, or coming and going
  • Pain that spreads from the chest to the shoulder, arm or back
  • Pain in one or both arms, or the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat, nausea, vomiting,  fainting or lightheadedness

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

The most common heart attack symptom for men or women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Back or jaw pain

Heart Attack versus Angina

An angina attack is not a heart attack. In angina, the heart does not get enough oxygen for a short time. The pain or discomfort – in the chest, arms, shoulders, back, neck or jaw – often goes away with rest or nitroglycerin. Angina does not usually cause lasting damage to the heart.

Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest

A heart attack can cause sudden cardiac arrest.  As a result of the interruption in blood flow to the heart muscle, the heart may go into an abnormal rhythm or stop beating completely.  When the heart fails to beat, blood flow to the brain and other vital organs is disrupted.  Without immediate CPR and emergency medical attention, cardiac arrest can be fatal. 

What to Do if You Experience Heart Attack Symptoms

If you or someone you know experiences chest discomfort, particularly with one or more of the other symptoms, call 911.