Heart Attack Symptoms

Chest Pain is Not the Only One

Heart attack symptoms typically follow a classic pattern. This list includes several common signs and symptoms of heart attacks. The patient does not need to have every item on the list in order to be having a heart attack, but if two or more of the items are present then it is important to call 911 immediately.​


Chest Pain

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The most common and regularly documented symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. The pain can feel like anything but usually is dull or aching. The least common type of pain felt during a heart attack is sharp.

Heart attack chest pain is usually very steady. It doesn't typically increase or decrease with movement or palpation (touching or pushing on the chest). It likely will come on suddenly, without warning.

Often, heart attack patients will report the chest pain as the worst pain they've ever felt. It certainly doesn't have to be that way, but many people ignore their symptoms. If you are feeling serious dull pain in your chest that doesn't change when you move or take a deep breath, it's time to call 911.


Chest Pressure

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Besides chest pain, the most common symptom of a heart attack is pressure or heaviness in the chest. This can be independent of chest pain but often goes together. Indeed, patients often report pressure as pain.


Pain in the Arm, Neck, or Jaw

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The pain or pressure of a heart attack can radiate away from the chest and appear in other parts of the body. The most common areas are the arms (especially the left), neck, and jaw. Pain or pressure can also radiate to the back, particularly between the shoulder blades.


Shortness of Breath

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Trouble breathing during a heart attack can happen for several reasons. Most often, pressure in the chest makes the patient feel as if he or she is being suffocated.

Heart attacks can also cause fluid in the lungs, which leads to severe shortness of breath. Be especially aware if the shortness of breath is accompanied by coughing up white or pink frothy sputum.



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Sweat is one of the body's responses to stress. Heart attacks cause stress on the heart and it tells the brain, which leads to the "fight or flight" stress response. Sweating, especially when coupled with the other symptoms listed here, can be an indication of a heart attack.



Nauseated woman holding her stomach
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Like sweating, nausea is a very common response to stress. Feeling nauseated while also having chest pain is the body's way of trying to get you to call 911



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The same decreases in blood flow that can lead to passing out or trouble breathing also cause fatigue. While not a symptom of a heart attack alone, fatigue is definitely a warning sign.


Passing Out (Syncope)

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As a heart attack progresses, damaged heart muscle leads to a loss of blood pressure and decreased blood flow to the brain.


What to Do

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Readers who've experienced a heart attack before know those classic symptoms don't always happen or they don't always feel the way we expect them to. Heart attacks in women look very different than heart attacks in men.

If You Suspect You're Having a Heart Attack

If you suspect a heart attack, do not make an appointment to see the doctor. A private physician will probably not have the tools necessary to treat a heart attack. Instead, call 911 immediately!

If you have chest pain, always go to the ER or call 911.

While waiting for the ambulance:

  • Sit down and rest. The more exercise or stress you put on the heart, the more damage the heart attack will do. Sit and rest until the ambulance arrives.
  • Have someone gather your medications. If there is someone with you, have them gather your medications or an updated list. It's a good idea to have personal medical information available at all times for the ambulance crew.
  • Take your nitroglycerin. If you have a prescription for nitroglycerin, this is why you have it. Take it as directed by your physician. Usually, you put a tablet under your tongue and let it dissolve. Do not take another person's nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin can make some people's blood pressure drop dangerously low.WARNING: Taking nitroglycerin within 36 hours of taking Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra (drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction) may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. Do not take nitroglycerine within 36 hours of taking erectile dysfunction drugs unless directed by a physician.

There are many medical conditions in which calling the doctor is not always the best option. Often, it's better to skip the doctor and call 911 instead.

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