What Do You Smell When You Have a Heart Attack?

Some people report unusual body odors like a fishy or smelly socks smell before a heart attack due to changes in metabolic processes.

Smelling burnt toast isn’t a common sign of a1 heart attack. Detecting odors that aren’t really there is phantosmia2. Usually, phantosmia shows a different health issue, not a heart attack. This article explores if smelling burnt toast shows a heart attack. It also considers if the smell could signal a stroke and what else might cause phantom smells. We will check how to diagnose and treat these smells and when to see a doctor.

Key Takeaways:

  • Smelling burnt toast doesn’t reliably point to a heart attack.
  • Phantom odors, or phantosmia, might be linked to several health issues, even heart problems.
  • Getting quick medical help matters if you think it’s a heart attack or stroke.
  • If you keep smelling things that aren’t there, see a doctor to find the cause.
  • New tech like AI and remote monitoring could catch early signs of heart issues, like weird smells.

Phantom Odor Perception and Heart Attacks

If you smell burnt toast, you might not think it’s a heart attack warning.2 But, smelling things that aren’t there, like burnt toast, might mean you have a health issue.2 Experts have seen connections between this issue and problems like head injuries, brain tumors, and more.2

Understanding Phantosmia

Some adults with heart problems or chest pain might smell strange odors.2 They’re about three times more likely to do this than others.2 A study in 2018 also noted a link between these smells and heart health risks.2

Potential Link with Cardiovascular Health

Smelling burnt toast is strange, but it’s not a red flag for a heart attack.2 Yet, it might be more common in people with heart issues.2 Even so, experts don’t think smelling these odd scents means you’ll have a heart attack. There might not be a big connection between the two.2

Is Smelling Burnt Toast a Sign of a Heart Attack?

Most people don’t link smelling burnt toast to a heart attack.2 Experts usually don’t connect the condition of phantosmia, or smelling things that aren’t there, to heart issues. Although some might say they smelled burnt toast before a heart attack, no proof shows this smell warns of a heart problem.2

Various health problems can make someone smell things that aren’t real.23 Adults with heart conditions like congestive heart failure were three times as likely to have these smells.2 An article from 2018 also found a small link between smelling phantom odors and heart risks.2

The real reason behind phantom smells isn’t completely known, but we do know they aren’t a clear sign of a heart attack.2 If you smell things that others don’t, it might be due to a different health problem.23 It’s best to check with a doctor if this happens often.23

ConditionAssociation with Phantom Odors
Congestive Heart Failure or AnginaAround 3 times more likely to perceive phantom odors than the general population2
Cardiovascular RiskModest association with phantosmia2
Sinus InfectionsCan disrupt the olfactory system, causing long-lasting phantosmia3
MigrainesCan cause olfactory hallucinations, with the smell lasting around 5 minutes to an hour3
Nasal PolypsCan damage the olfactory system, leading to phantom smells3
NeurotoxinsCan alter the sense of smell, causing odors such as burnt toast3
Radiation TreatmentCan induce changes in smell, usually temporary in nature3
Temporal Lobe SeizureCan cause olfactory hallucinations, characterized by a sudden onset and short duration3
Parkinson’s DiseaseMay present early symptoms through phantosmia, occurring before motor issues become apparent3
Mental Health DisordersSuch as schizophrenia or severe depression, can be associated with phantosmia3
EpilepsyMay lead to olfactory hallucinations, particularly during simple partial seizures3
Alzheimer’s DiseaseCan lead to hallucinations, including phantosmia, in the later stages3
NeuroblastomaA rare cancer affecting the nerves related to smell, can result in phantosmia3

Smelling Burnt Toast and Stroke Symptoms

Some people say they smell burnt toast before a stroke, but studies haven’t proven a link.2 Still, knowing stroke warning signs is important. If you notice these, get medical help fast.3

Recognizing Stroke Warning Signs

The acronym “FAST” helps know stroke symptoms: F – face drooping, A – arm weakness, S – speech trouble, and T – Time to call 911.3 Treatment works best within the first 3 hours after symptoms start.2

Seeking Immediate Medical Attention

If you or someone else shows FAST signs or has sudden severe headache, dizziness, or trouble keeping balance, call 911 right away.3 Early treatment boosts recovery and cuts stroke effects.

Stroke symptoms

Causes of Phantom Smells

Research shows doctors and researchers are working on finding the exact reasons for phantom smells. This condition, called phantosmia, is linked to various health issues. These can include head injuries, brain tumors, schizophrenia, as well as infections in the upper respiratory system and sinusitis.2

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Medical Conditions Associated with Phantosmia

Phantosmia is connected to a wide range of health problems. This includes neurological issues like head injuries and brain tumors. It also involves psychiatric issues such as schizophrenia. Infections in the upper respiratory system and long-term sinus problems can also be a cause.2

Other Factors Contributing to Phantom Odors

Besides health conditions, other things might lead to smelling phantom odors. This can involve taking certain medications, getting older, and being around harmful chemicals.4 Also, people who are very stressed or anxious may experience this.4

The causes of phantosmia are hard to pin down. Yet, knowing what can trigger it is key to diagnosing and treating the issue.24

Diagnosing the Cause of Phantom Smells

To figure out what’s causing phantosmia, a doctor will talk to the person and get their medical history. They’ll also do a check-up and ask about when the smells started, how often they happen, and any other important details.2 The doctor might run specific checks, like a nasal endoscopy, or ask for CT or MRI scans to learn more about what’s behind the smells.

Medical History and Physical Examination

Understanding the person’s past health and doing a complete check-up gives the doctor big clues about these phantom smells.2 This info is key for the doctor to know what to do next to find out the cause.

Diagnostic Tests for Phantosmia

After getting the medical history and doing exams, the doctor could order more tests to dive deeper into why the phantom smells are happening.2 Special tests like a nasal endoscopy to look inside the nose or CT and MRI scans to check the brain and nerves might be required.4 These tests’ results can reveal a lot about what’s causing the phantosmia, based on the body’s physical processes.

Treating Phantom Odor Perception

The treatment of phantosmia depends on what’s causing it.2 Doctors are still learning why some people smell things that aren’t really there. They think it might be connected to different health issues and other reasons.2

Treatment Options Based on Underlying Cause

To help with phantosmia, treatments focus on the root medical issue, easing symptoms with drugs, or, rarely, surgery.2 It could signal simple ailments like a sinus infection, or more serious problems like a brain disease.2 Links have been found between phantosmia and head traumas, brain diseases, schizophrenia, and infections of the upper airways.2 Age and specific medications might also influence phantom smells.2

Surgery as a Last Resort

In extreme situations, surgery to remove part of the olfactory mucosa may be an option.2 Yet, this is rarely chosen due to its risks. These include the possibility of bleeding, harming other nearby tissues, and fluid leaks.2 If phantosmia goes on for a long time, it could cause mental problems like depression or anxiety.2 If someone has consistent issues with phantom smells, it’s wise to see a doctor. This can help find out the cause and the best treatment plan.2

When to Contact a Doctor for Phantom Smells

If you smell things that aren’t there all the time, you should see a doctor.2 This issue, called phantosmia, can have many causes. It could be something simple like a sinus infection. Or, it might be more serious, like a brain tumor. Phantosmia can also affect your mental health, causing depression or anxiety if it disrupts your life.2 A doctor can find out what’s wrong and help. They might treat it themselves or send you to a specialist.

5 Phantom smells are often unpleasant, such as smelling something burnt or rotten.5 They can come from head injuries or illnesses like COVID-19. Treating them might involve doctors from different fields, like ear, nose, and throat specialists or neurologists.5 Not being able to smell real dangers, like gas leaks, is a major reason to get help.

4 Phantosmia affects a fair number of people, around 10-20% of smell-related issues. Research says up to 11% of people might have it.4 It can show up in young people or those dealing with stress. Using a saline solution to clean the nose sometimes helps. But, if it keeps happening, surgery might be an option, although it’s not common because of the risks.4

what do you smell when you have a heart attack

Noticing a smell like burnt toast isn’t common during a heart attack. However, some say they smell odd things like fish or bad socks before it happens.2 This might be due to changes in their body’s chemistry during the heart attack. These changes can make the body produce smells not usually there.2 Yet, smelling these things doesn’t always mean a heart attack is coming, but it might mean something is off. It’s a hint to see a doctor.

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Potential Odors During a Heart Attack

Some find they smell fish or stinky socks before a heart attack hits.2 This could be because the body’s chemistry changes during the event. New smells may show up because of these changes. So, these unusual scents could be a warning sign.

Metabolic Changes and Unusual Body Odors

When a heart attack starts, the body’s whole chemistry can shift. It might produce smells like fish or bad socks.2 Though smelling these is not a clear heart attack sign, it should make you think about seeing a doctor. So, don’t ignore those strange smells.

Vascular Conditions and Phantom Odor Perception

Studies show a link between vascular issues and smelling phantom odors. A study in 2020 discovered something interesting. It found that people who had strokes were more likely to smell things that weren’t there. Specifically, they were 76% more likely to experience these strange scents.6 Moreover, if someone had heart problems like heart failure or angina, they were three times more likely to notice phantom smells. This shows that health problems related to blood flow can lead to smelling things that aren’t real.

Stroke and Phantosmia

In 2020, the journal Laryngoscope shared interesting findings. They noted a 76% higher chance of smelling phantom odors after a stroke.6 This suggests a possible connection between stroke events and these unusual smells.

Heart Failure and Angina Associations

The same research from 2020 looked at heart conditions too. It showed a striking result. Adults between 40 and 59 with heart failure had three times the chance of smelling phantom odors. Those 60 and over with angina had 2.8 times the usual odds.6 It seems heart issues might contribute to smelling odors that aren’t really there.

Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Phantom Odors

A 2020 study showed that adults with controlled high blood pressure or cholesterol smelled phantom odors more.7 This means even when these conditions are managed, the risk of smelling things that aren’t there increases.8 The reason is likely the changes in blood flow or body chemistry from these issues. These changes might make people more likely to report smelling things that others can’t.8

Well-Managed Hypertension and Phantosmia

The same study found that people with managed high blood pressure sensed phantom smells more.7 Even when blood pressure is under control, this odd occurrence is more common.9

Well-Managed Hypercholesterolemia and Phantom Odors

It also discovered a similar situation with high cholesterol. Those who keep their high cholesterol in check often experience phantom odors.7 The study suggests that changes in the blood’s fat levels or the way the body breaks down food might be responsible.9

Diabetes and Phantom Odor Perception

In 2020, a study showed older adults with diabetes have a higher chance of smelling things that are not there. This is more common in those using both insulin and oral medications.2This mix of diabetes and its medicines might cause this smelling issue in older adults.2 Using five or more medicines makes the chance of smelling something wrong go up by 70%.8 For people over 60, taking certain medicines increases this chance by 74 to 88%.8

Six and a half percent of U.S. adults say they smell things that aren’t real.8 But some studies suggest this could be as high as 11% of people.4 Despite not being very common, this issue can really affect someone’s life. It can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.2

To find out why someone is smelling things that aren’t there, doctors have a few tests they can do. They might check inside the nose with a special tool, or do scans of the head, or check the brain’s signals.2 Sometimes, surgery is needed to fix the problem. In severe cases, part of the inside of the nose might need to be taken out.2

But, what comes next as treatment depends on what’s causing the issue. Doctors might say to take steroids for allergies. Or they might suggest an operation if it’s because of growths in the nose.4

Artificial Intelligence and Remote Monitoring for Heart Failure

New technologies like artificial intelligence and wearables aim to enhance how we watch over and deal with heart failure from afar.10 They might spot changes early, even signalled by different body odors, leading to swift action.10 In a study, an electronic nose could tell apart the breath of those with heart failure or in better health very accurately. This points to body odor as a possible sign of heart problems.10

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In the same study, the breath of those with heart failure was clearly different from those without the condition. This breath analysis could be a great tool for diagnosing and watching over heart failure.10 Also, checking levels of a protein, troponin, helps diagnose heart attack patients.10 Using an electronic nose, researchers could distinguish between patients with heart issues and healthy individuals. This shows the potential of such tools in diagnosis.10

Combining AI with remote monitoring might completely change how we handle heart failure.11 These steps have shown good results in many diseases – noticing neurological issues, cancer in the lungs, eye problems from diabetes, diseases like Alzheimer’s, and issues with the heart.11 The development of AI and machine learning opens the door to new, better ways of looking after heart failure.12


Smelling burnt toast isn’t a usual sign of a heart attack. There’s no solid proof showing this smell predicts a heart problem.8 Yet, smelling things that aren’t there, like burnt toast, could point to specific health issues.8 These might involve problems with blood vessels and metabolism.8 The reasons for smelling these things aren’t completely clear. But, studies have connected it to serious health conditions.8,13

If you keep smelling things like burnt toast, you should see a doctor. They can find out if it’s from an underlying health issue.8 New tools, such as tech that uses artificial intelligence, might help. They could make it easier to check for early signs of problems, like smelling strange odors.8,13

Knowing about the links between false smells and health issues helps doctors. They can act fast to help patients with these odd smells. It’s important to find out why someone smells things like burnt toast. This can protect their health and make sure they stay well.


Is smelling burnt toast a sign of a heart attack?

No, smelling burnt toast is not a common sign of a heart attack. It’s called phantosmia when you smell things that aren’t there. Although this can suggest a health issue, heart attacks are not usually linked to it.

Can smelling burnt toast be a sign of a stroke?

Smelling burnt toast does not necessarily mean a stroke is happening. Knowing the stroke warning signs is crucial. If someone shows face drooping, arm weakness, or has trouble speaking, it’s an emergency.

What causes phantom smells?

The causes of phantom smells are still unclear. Yet, doctors connect phantosmia to issues like head trauma, brain tumors, and infections. These include colds or sinusitis. Medications, aging, and toxins might also play a role.

How is the cause of phantom smells diagnosed?

Diagnosing phantosmia involves history-taking and tests. A doctor might do a nasal exam or look into the nose with a tiny camera. CT or MRI scans can offer more clues.

How is phantom odor perception treated?

Treatment for phantosmia varies with its cause. Addressing the underlying health problem is often the first step. Sometimes, relieving symptoms with medicine is necessary. Surgery to adjust the olfactory system is a last option.

When should I contact a doctor for phantom smells?

If phantom smells persist, it’s wise to see a doctor. They might reveal anything from minor to serious issues such as a brain tumor. Early diagnosis is key.

What other unusual body odors can be associated with heart attacks?

Some mention a fishy or dirty socks smell before a heart attack. These smells might come from changes during the heart event. However, they aren’t a sure sign of an attack.

Is there a link between vascular conditions and phantom odor perception?

Yes, studies have found ties between vascular issues and smelling things that aren’t there. Adults with a history of serious heart events were more likely to report phantom smells.

Can well-managed vascular risk factors still be associated with phantom odors?

Even with good control, vascular risks could lead to smelling phantom odors. A 2020 study showed that well-managed high blood pressure or high cholesterol was linked to this. It hints that these risk factors still matter.

How does diabetes relate to phantom odor perception?

For those with diabetes over 60, using both insulin and oral meds increased odds of smelling phantom odors. This hints that diabetes treatment could affect how older adults perceive smells.

How are emerging technologies being used to monitor heart health?

New tools like AI and wearables might help better watch over heart health. They offer a way to catch early signs, like unusual smells, and act fast to avoid serious issues.

Source Links

  1. https://www.doctorshosplaredo.com/services/cardiovascular-services/heart-attack-signs
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/smell-of-burnt-toast-heart-attack
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/smelling-burnt-toast
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322698
  5. https://www.webmd.com/brain/what-is-phantosmia
  6. https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/1726674/stroke-symptoms-phantom-odour-perception
  7. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/high-cholesterol-getting-weird-unexplainable-smells-often-can-indicate-your-cholesterol-is-above-the-threshold/photostory/91690098.cms
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7748072/
  9. https://www.healthywomen.org/your-health/smelling-burnt-toast-having-stroke
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S174680942030375X
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9330886/
  12. https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/machine-learning-ai-accurately-predicts-cardiac-arrest-risk/
  13. https://myacare.com/blog/can-you-smell-a-disease-exploring-the-link-between-odor-and-sickness