Understand that sometimes there are very subtle or no warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense and provide no warning signs or tell-tale symptoms. However, in most cases, there are at least subtle clues that usually get rationalized or marginalized. Early warning signs of heart disease include high blood pressure, sensation of chronic heartburn, reduced cardiovascular fitness and a vague feeling of malaise or being unwell. These symptoms may start many days or weeks before the heart muscle gets damaged enough to become dysfunctional.
- Symptoms in women are particularly hard to recognize and are ignored or missed even more often.
- Major risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke include: high blood cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cigarette smoking and advancing age (65 years and older).
- A heart attack doesn’t always lead to cardiac arrest (complete heart stoppage), but cardiac arrest is always indicative of heart attack.
Recognize the most common symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks do not occur suddenly or “out of the blue.” Instead, they typically start slowly with mild chest pain or discomfort that builds over many hours or even days. The chest pain (often described as intense pressure, squeezing or achiness) is located in the center of the chest and can be constant or intermittent. Other common common symptoms of heart attack include: shortness of breath, cold sweats (with pale or ashen skin), dizziness or lightheadedness, moderate-to-severe fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and a sensation of severe indigestion.
- Not all people who experience heart attacks have the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms — there’s lots of variability.
- Some people also report feeling a sense of “doom” or “impending death” that is unique to the heart attack experience.
Most people experiencing a heart attack (even a mild one) will collapse to the ground, or at least fall against something for support. Other common causes of chest pain don’t typically lead to sudden collapse.
Recognize some of the less common symptoms of heart attack. In addition to the tell-tale symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath and cold sweats, there is some less common symptoms characteristic of myocardial infarction that you should be familiar with in order to better gauge the probability of heart failure. These symptoms include pain or discomfort in other areas of the body, such as the left arm (or sometimes both), mid-back (thoracic spine), front of the neck and/or lower jaw.
- Women are more likely than men to experience less common symptoms of heart attack, particularly mid-back pain, jaw pain and nausea/vomiting.
- Other diseases and conditions can mimic some of the symptoms of heart attack, but the more signs and symptoms you experience, the greater the likelihood your heart is the cause.
Call emergency services immediately. Act immediately and call 9-1-1 or other emergency services in your area if you suspect someone is having a heart attack. Even if they don’t display all or even the majority of the signs and symptoms, calling for medical help is the most important action you can take for someone in severe distress. Emergency medical services (EMS) can begin treatment as soon as they arrive and are trained to revive someone whose heart has completely stopped.
- If you can’t call 9-1-1 for some reason, ask a bystander to call and give you updates as to the estimated arrival of emergency services.
- Patients with chest pain and suspected heart attack who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster attention and treatment at hospitals.