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Symptoms of a heart attack
Read about symptoms of a heart attacks, including chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling and being sick, and anxiety
Call 999 immediately if you think someone might be having a heart attack. The faster you act, the better their chances.
At the moment it can be hard to know what to do if you're unwell.
It's still important to get medical help if you need it.
Do not delay if you feel very unwell or think there's something seriously wrong. Call 999.
Symptoms of a heart attack
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest
pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy
feeling lightheaded or dizzy
sweating shortness of breath
feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
an overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
coughing or wheezing
The chest pain is often severe, but some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion.
While the most common symptom in both men and women is chest pain, women are more likely to have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling or being sick and back or jaw pain.
Waiting for an ambulance
If you have had a heart attack, it's important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart.
If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance.
Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.
In some cases, a complication called ventricular arrhythmia can cause the heart to stop beating. This is known as sudden cardiac arrest.
Signs and symptoms that suggest a person has gone into cardiac arrest include:
they appear not to be breathing
they're not moving
they don't respond to any stimulation, such as being touched or spoken to
If you think somebody has gone into cardiac arrest and you do not have access to an automated external defibrillator (AED), you should perform chest compressions, as this can help restart the heart.
To do chest compressions on an adult:
Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the centre of the person's chest. Place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlock your fingers.
Using your body weight (not just your arms), press straight down by 5 to 6cm on their chest.
Repeat this until an ambulance arrives.
Aim to do 100 to 120 compressions a minute. Watch the video on "hands-only" CPR from the British Heart Foundation.
Find out about how to resuscitate a child.
Automated external defibrillator (AED)
If you have access to an AED, you should use it. An AED is a safe, portable electrical device that most large organisations keep as part of first aid equipment.
It helps to establish a regular heartbeat during a cardiac arrest by monitoring the person's heartbeat and giving them an electric shock if necessary.
Find out more about and AED from the Arrhythmia Alliance.
Angina and heart attacks
Angina is a syndrome (a collection of symptoms caused by an underlying health condition) caused by the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart becoming restricted.
People with angina can experience similar symptoms to a heart attack, but they usually happen during exercise and pass within a few minutes.
However, occasionally, people with angina can have a heart attack. It's important to recognise the difference between the symptoms of angina and those of a heart attack. The best way to do this is to remember that the symptoms of angina can be controlled with medicine, but symptoms of a heart attack cannot.
If you have angina, you may have been prescribed medicine (glyceryl trinitrate) that improves your symptoms within 5 minutes. If the first dose does not work, a second dose can be taken after 5 minutes, and a third dose after a further 5 minutes.
If the pain persists, despite taking 3 doses of glyceryl trinitrate over 15 minutes, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Page last reviewed: 28 November 2019
Next review due: 28 November 2022
Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack. Get facts about heart attacks from the CDC.
Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery
Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery What is a heart attack?
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, happens when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood.
The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm, or sudden contraction, of a coronary artery that can stop blood flow to the heart muscle.
What are the symptoms of heart attack?
The major symptoms of a heart attack areChest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders. Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.
Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms. Learn more about women and heart disease.Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.1 Learn more facts about heart attack and heart disease.
Call 9-1-1 if you notice symptoms of a heart attack.
If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. The sooner you get to an emergency room, the sooner you can get treatment to reduce the amount of damage to the heart muscle. At the hospital, health care professionals can run tests to find out if a heart attack is happening and decide the best treatment.
In some cases, a heart attack requires cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or an electrical shock (defibrillation) to the heart to get the heart pumping again. Bystanders trained to use CPR or a defibrillator may be able to help until emergency medical personnel arrive.
Remember, the chances of surviving a heart attack are better the sooner emergency treatment begins.
What are the risk factors for heart attack?
Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking.2
Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
Learn more about risk factors for heart disease and heart attack.
What can I do to recover after a heart attack?
Take our quiz external icon
to see how much you know about cardiac rehabilitation.
If you’ve had a heart attack, your heart may be damaged. This could affect your heart’s rhythm and its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
You can lower your chances of having future health problems following a heart attack with these steps:Physical activity—Talk with your health care team about the things you do each day in your life and work. Your doctor may want you to limit work, travel, or sexual activity for some time after a heart attack.Lifestyle changes—Eating a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing stress—in addition to taking prescribed medicines—can help improve your heart health and quality of life. Ask your health care team about attending a program called cardiac rehabilitation to help you make these lifestyle changes.Cardiac rehabilitation—Cardiac rehabilitation is an important program for anyone recovering from a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problem that required surgery or medical care. Cardiac rehab is a supervised program that includes
Education about healthy living, including healthy eating, taking medicine as prescribed, and ways to help you quit smoking
Counseling to find ways to relieve stress and improve mental health
A team of people may help you through cardiac rehab, including your health care team, exercise and nutrition specialists, physical therapists, and counselors or mental health professionals.
American Heart Association: Heart Attack
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Heart Attack
Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2019;139(10):e56–528.
Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
What are the warning signs of a heart attack? The American Heart Association explains the most common symptoms of heart attack in men and women.
Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
Catch the signs early
Don’t wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Download the common heart attack warning signs infographic (JPEG) | (PDF)
Symptoms vary between men and women
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain (angina) or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Learn about the warning signs of heart attack in women.
Watch video: “Just A Little Heart Attack” – a short film directed by and starring Elizabeth Banks
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Don’t hesitate to call 911
Learn the signs for heart attack, and remember: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out.
Minutes matter. Fast action can save lives - maybe your own.Call 911 if you experience heart attack warning signs. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.
An emergency medical services (EMS) team can begin treatment when they arrive – up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too.
For many reasons, it’s best to call 911 so that an experienced EMS team can begin treatment and arrange rapid transport to the emergency room.
Watch an animation of a heart attack.
Heart attack warning signs: English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)
Stroke warning signs
Heart Attack Tools and Resources
What is a Heart Attack? (PDF)
How Will I Recover? (PDF)
Heart Attack Discharge Worksheet (PDF)
Heart Attack Discharge Worksheet (Spanish) (PDF)
5 Ways to Lower Your Risk of a Second Heart Attack (PDF)
5 Ways to Lower Your Risk of a Second Heart Attack - Spanish (PDF)
Cardiac Rehab Referral Card (PDF)
Cardiac Rehab Referral Card (Spanish) (PDF)
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack? (PDF)
Common Heart Attack Warning Signs (PDF)
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.