Heart Attack Symptoms: Know the Warning Signs to Act Fast

Recognize the warning signs of a heart attack—chest discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea. Knowing heart attack symptoms could save your life.

A heart attack happens when blood flow to your heart is blocked. This block is often caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the heart’s arteries.1 Getting help fast is key to surviving a heart attack. Knowing the signs and calling 911 right away can save your life.

Key Takeaways

  • Heart attacks are caused by a severe reduction or blockage of blood flow to the heart, often due to plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • Common heart attack symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, pain in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, and other signs like cold sweats, fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness.
  • Women may experience atypical symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain during a heart attack.
  • Calling 911 immediately is the most crucial step to get life-saving treatment during a heart attack.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle, managing risk factors, and seeking prompt medical care can help prevent heart attacks.

Recognizing the Signs of a Heart Attack

The top heart attack warning signs are chest pain or discomfort. This pain might feel like pressure, tightness, or aching. It could last a long time or come and go.1 The pain might spread to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.1 Feeling short of breath is also a big warning sign.1

Chest Discomfort

Chest pain or discomfort stands out as a sign of a heart attack. It might feel like someone is sitting on your chest.2 Or it could be a dull ache or indigestion-like pain.2 This pain doesn’t always affect your chest directly. For some, it can show up in the arm, jaw, back, or even the neck.2

Discomfort in Other Areas

Heart attack symptoms sometimes involve pain in other upper body areas. These include the shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.1 It might be steady or on and off.1

Shortness of Breath

Feeling out of breath is a strong sign of a heart attack. This might come with or without chest pain.1 Symptoms can be different for everyone. For some, there’s chest pain, while for others, it’s shortness of breath, nausea, or back and jaw pain.2

Other Warning Signs

Other symptoms could be breaking into a cold sweat, feeling tired, nauseous, or dizzy.1 Recognizing these signs and getting help fast could save a life.12

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Both men and women often feel chest pain or discomfort during a heart attack. But,3 women might notice different signs. These include feeling out of breath, sick to their stomach, or having back and jaw pain.3 Recognizing these signs is crucial for women. They should get medical help fast if they see any of these unusual symptoms.

4 In the United States, heart disease is the top threat to women, leading to a third of all female deaths.4 African American and Latina women face it more, with 40% and 30% affected, respectively.4 Shockingly, half of women of color in the U.S. will lose their lives to heart disease.

4 A recent study discovered that women, especially those from minority groups, don’t know enough about heart attack and stroke signs.4 And,4 women have unique heart risks. These include gaining too much weight during pregnancy, diabetes, and other health conditions. Menopause, smoking, and mental health issues also play a part.

4 Heart disease can be prevented for 82% of women through changes in lifestyle. Yet,4 one in three women’s deaths are still due to heart issues.

heart attack symptoms in women

Don’t Hesitate to Call 911

If someone shows heart attack signs, the first step is to call 911 right away.5 Many delay this because they are scared of troubling the emergency team or don’t think their symptoms are serious.5 But remember, 911 starts life-saving help immediately and gets you to the hospital fast.

Emergency Medical Services Response

5 Iredell County EMS aims to be by your side in nine minutes. Sometimes, they get there even quicker.5 They can do tests like EKGs at home, helping spot and treat heart attacks early.5 Plus, by letting the hospital know in advance, your care won’t miss a beat. The cath lab will be ready, along with the team.

Faster Treatment at the Hospital

5 Getting there by ambulance means you start getting help sooner in the ER.5 Quick medical care within 90 minutes of a heart attack can save lives. Calling 911 offers the best and fastest help in a heart attack situation.

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What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack happens when there’s a big problem in the blood flow to the heart. This happens when there’s a lot of fat, cholesterol, and other stuff in the heart’s arteries.1 These substances make the arteries smaller, which slows down the blood.

When the plaque breaks, a blood clot might form. If this clot fully blocks an artery, a heart attack happens.1 This stops the blood from reaching parts of the heart, making them weak or stop working.

Blocked Coronary Arteries

The leading cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease. This happens when the arteries that feed the heart get hurt or sick from plaque.1 As the years go by, the plaque makes the arteries harder and smaller, cutting off blood to the heart.

Lack of Blood Flow

When a plaque breaks, a blood clot might form, blocking an artery. This too can cause a heart attack.1 Less usual reasons include the arteries squeezing too tight and some infections.

Coronary Artery Disease

Common Heart Attack Symptoms

The signs of a heart attack are intense chest pain or pressure. It may come and go or last for over a few minutes. This pain can move to the shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach. You might also feel short of breath, even without chest pain.2

After age 45 for men and 55 for women, the risk of a heart attack goes up.1 Smoking, even from secondhand sources, makes a heart attack more likely.1 Over time, high blood pressure can harm the heart’s arteries. This danger grows with obesity, high cholesterol, or diabetes.1 High levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides up the risk too.1

Being overweight links to health problems that raise heart attack risk. These include high blood pressure and bad cholesterol.1 Diabetes also increases this risk.1 Metabolic syndrome is dangerous. It includes belly fat, high blood pressure, and other issues. It makes heart disease more likely.1

Atypical Symptoms and Warning Signs

While many know chest pain is a main heart attack sign, some, especially women, may have different warnings.6 Not all heart-related chest pains feel sharp like a knife. They can vary but should still worry you.6 Chest pain from heart issues might not be the usual angina or ischemic chest pain.6 Atypical chest pain doesn’t fit the norm for a specific problem.6 Doctors can often tell what’s wrong based on the type of chest pain.6 Women, older adults, and diabetics might show unusual heart attack signs.

These unusual signs can be breathlessness, feeling sick, back or jaw aches, and sudden tiredness or dizziness.6 These can happen due to stomach, lung, or muscle issues.6 Problems with the heart, aorta, and other organs can also cause chest pain.6 One of the top reasons for odd chest pain is Costochondritis in grown-ups. It’s key to know atypical heart attack symptoms, unusual heart attack symptoms, and heart attack symptoms in women. If you see any worrying signs, get help fast.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you think someone is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.7 Fast action saves lives. Nearly half die in the first hour, but quick help changes that.7 Also, heart events often happen at home. So, learning CPR can really help a loved one.7

Calling Emergency Services

Call 911 right away if you suspect a heart attack.7 CPR and AEDs can boost chances of survival.7 These devices are easy to use and can be found in many public places. They’re key in saving lives.7

Taking Nitroglycerin and Aspirin

Someone with nitroglycerin should take it if they’ve been told to. Aspirin can also be helpful, but take it only if a doctor advises.7 Remember, AEDs work in specific cases. They’re for dangerous heart rhythms, not every situation. If someone is not breathing, replacing a heartbeat is urgent.7 Brain damage can set in quickly if a defibrillator is not available for help right away.7

heart attack first aid

Causes of Heart Attacks

The main cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease. It’s when the heart’s arteries get damaged from fatty deposits. This damage can narrow the arteries over time, making it hard for blood to flow freely. And when a piece of this plaque breaks off, it can lead to a blood clot. If the clot blocks an artery, a heart attack happens.1
There are also less common causes, like coronary artery spasms and some infections.

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Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is often behind heart attacks. It’s a slow process. Cholesterol, fat, and other stuff build up inside the arteries. As this plaque grows, the arteries get narrow and stiff, cutting off blood flow to the heart.1

Plaque Buildup and Blockages

The plaque can eventually block an artery. This stops the heart from getting the oxygen-rich blood it needs.1 Sometimes, if the plaque breaks apart, it leads to a blood clot. This clot then blocks the artery, causing a heart attack.

Heart Attack Symptoms: Know the Warning Signs to Act Fast

It’s crucial to know the common heart attack symptoms for quick action. Watch for chest discomfort and pain in the upper body. If you feel short of breath, sweaty, tired, nauseous, or dizzy, it could be serious.1 Men over 45 and women over 55 are at higher risk. Smoking, high blood pressure, and not being active boost the chance of a heart attack.1

If these signs happen to you or someone you know, dial 911 right away. Minutes count and can save a life.8 While chest pain is typical, it’s not always the case. Those with diabetes or older adults might feel something else. Look out for signs like anxiety, fainting, or being sick.8

Minor pain, like indigestion, or symptoms such as breath troubles, sickness, and back or jaw pain with no chest ache are possible.2

Learning to spot a heart attack and acting fast can boost survival rates. Always call for help if you think it’s a heart attack, prompt care is key.182

Risk Factors for Heart Attacks

Many things can make someone more likely to get a heart attack. It’s very important to know these risks for a healthy heart. The main risk factors are age and gender, how you live, and certain health issues.1

Age and Gender

Men over 45 and women over 55 have a higher risk. This risk goes up as people get older. Men face a higher risk overall.9

Lifestyle Factors

Our daily choices are key. Smoking, even being around smoke a lot, can make a heart attack more likely.1 Not moving enough, sitting around too much, and eating too much unhealthy food increases risk. So does being extremely stressed.1

Medical Conditions

Some health problems also boost the heart attack risk. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being very overweight.1 Having more than one of these issues makes the risk much higher.1 Metabolic syndrome is especially risky. It involves several heart-harming factors. Also, if heart attacks run in the family, or if someone has certain immune diseases, they’re at more risk.9

Being aware and changing habits can really help. This means quitting smoking, eating well, and staying active. It also means getting treated for any health issues. These steps can lower your risk of a heart attack and better your heart’s health.109

Complications of Heart Attacks

Heart attacks can cause several serious issues needing urgent care. These include abnormal heart rhythms, heart muscle damage, and sudden cardiac arrest. This is when the heart stops beating suddenly.


Arrhythmias that may threaten life can happen within 24 to 48 hours after a heart attack.11 You can manage mild ones with beta blockers.11 For ventricular arrhythmias, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) might be needed. It is surgically placed in your chest.11 Pacemakers are used for bradycardias that keep causing problems.11

Heart Failure

The heart might weaken after a heart attack, leading to heart failure. It’s when the heart can’t pump well.11 You might feel breathless, tired, and see swelling in your limbs due to fluid.11

Cardiac Arrest

Cardiogenic shock can happen when the heart muscle can’t pump enough blood.11 Signs include being confused, having cold hands or feet, a fast heartbeat, and trouble breathing.11 A heart rupture after a heart attack is rare but very severe. It’s when the heart’s parts break.11

These problems can be life-threatening. They need quick medical care. Early and consistent care is crucial to avoid or handle these complications.11

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Preventing Heart Attacks

It’s vital to take steps to avoid heart attacks and keep our hearts healthy. Making healthy lifestyle changes is key. This means managing health conditions that up the heart attack risk.

Lifestyle Changes

Quit smoking to cut down on the heart attack risk.1 Eating a heart-friendly diet and working out helps a lot.12 Less stress and enough sleep also reduce the chance of a heart attack.13

Working on your lifestyle can make a big difference. It’s about eating well, staying active, and stress-free. This way, you lower your risk of a heart attack.

Managing Health Conditions

Keeping certain health issues under control is crucial. Think high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.1 Those with a family history of early heart attacks need to be extra careful.1 Regular checks and listening to your doctor are key. They help in managing these issues and bringing down your heart attack risk.

Address both lifestyle and health issues to prevent heart attacks. It makes a huge difference in keeping your heart healthy.11312


Heart attacks are a critical health issue. They happen when the heart doesn’t get enough blood. This often occurs because of artery blockages.14 Knowing the symptoms early can be life-saving.14 These signs can include chest pain, and pain in other areas like the arms or neck. Other symptoms are feeling sick, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

It’s important to know what causes heart attacks and what might put you at risk.14 Blockages in the heart’s arteries are major reasons. Quick treatment can make a big difference in surviving a heart attack.14 Age, gender, and health habits are also factors. These can include high cholesterol or blood pressure, being overweight, and smoking. Stress and not being active enough are risk factors too.

Recognizing early heart attack signs and acting fast is crucial. Call 911 right away. Making healthy lifestyle choices is also key.14 Fast treatment can boost survival chances.15 Doctors may use special medicines to break clots and help the heart recover.


What are the most common symptoms of a heart attack?

The main symptoms of a heart attack are chest discomfort and pain. This pain feels like pressure, tightness, or squeezing. It may last a few minutes or come and go. It often spreads to the arms, back, neck, stomach, or jaw. Shortness of breath is also a warning sign.

How do heart attack symptoms differ for women?

Women might not feel severe chest pain during a heart attack. They may have shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, or back and jaw pain. It’s key for women to know these atypical signs and seek help fast if they feel them.

What should you do if you or someone else is experiencing a heart attack?

If heart attack symptoms are present, call 911 right away. If the person has nitroglycerin, they should take it as told. Aspirin might also be advised, but only take it if a doctor says to.

What causes a heart attack?

The top cause is coronary artery disease, where the heart’s arteries get damaged. This happens from plaque buildup, which can create blood clots and block an artery. Other causes are artery spasms and some infections.

What are the risk factors for having a heart attack?

Risk factors include age, with men over 45 and women over 55 being more at risk. Men are generally at higher risk. Lifestyle choices like smoking, bad diet, little exercise, and specific health issues increase the danger. Managing these risks through changes and medical care is important.

What are the potential complications of a heart attack?

Complications from a heart attack include arrhythmias, heart failure, and even sudden cardiac arrest, which is life-threatening. Immediate medical help is vital to address these problems.

How can you help prevent a heart attack?

Preventing a heart attack involves healthy habits and managing health issues. Quitting smoking, eating well, exercising, and reducing stress are important steps. Control of health conditions like high blood pressure is a must. This can lower the risk of a heart attack.

Source Links

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/symptoms/
  3. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack/heart-attack-symptoms-in-women
  4. https://www.baystatehealth.org/articles/signs-of-heart-attack-in-women
  5. https://www.iredellfreenews.com/news-features/2023/every-minute-counts-dont-wait-to-call-911-if-you-experience-heart-attack-symptoms/
  6. https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/better-me/atypical-vs-typical-recognizing-the-signs-of-a-heart-attack
  7. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/heart-attack-symptoms-emergency
  8. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/selfcare-instructions/warning-signs-and-symptoms-of-heart-disease
  9. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/understand-your-risks-to-prevent-a-heart-attack
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/heart-disease/about/heart-attack.html
  11. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/complications/
  12. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/life-after-a-heart-attack/lifestyle-changes-for-heart-attack-prevention
  13. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/151444
  15. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16818-heart-attack-myocardial-infarction