What are the Signs of a Heart Attack?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Smoking can increase a person's chances of having a heart attack.
Smoking can increase a person's chances of having a heart attack.

The signs of a heart attack can be varied, and some people even miss that they’ve had a mild heart attack. This is unfortunate because small unnoticed heart attacks can cause damage to the heart, and may be precursors to larger attacks. Even if you appear to only have a few signs of a heart attack, you should call emergency services immediately. Don’t wait to drive to the hospital, if emergency services can get to you more quickly. Immediate treatment and diagnosis improves survival rate.

Chest pain, nausea, and lightheadedness may all be symptoms of a heart attack.
Chest pain, nausea, and lightheadedness may all be symptoms of a heart attack.

The most obvious signs of a heart attack are chest pain and shortness of breath. Chest pain is often described as spasmodic, squeezing pain. It may be intense and then go away for a few minutes, only to return. People may additionally feel like they cannot catch their breath. This symptom may or may not be present, but it can be augmented if the chest feels squeezed and painful too.

The most obvious signs of a heart attack is chest pain and shortness of breath.
The most obvious signs of a heart attack is chest pain and shortness of breath.

Some people don’t feel signs of a heart attack in their chest. Especially women are likely to notice pain in their back or jaw instead of in their chest, though many also have chest pain. Women can be prone to nausea and/or vomiting, and men may experience this symptom too. Other areas where pain can be felt include the stomach, the neck and either arm. It’s commonly thought that pain in the left arm indicates heart attack, but actually either or both arms can hurt, or neither one can hurt.

It is a common misconception that people always clutch their chest when having a heart attack.
It is a common misconception that people always clutch their chest when having a heart attack.

Another of the signs of heart attack is lightheadedness. People may feel dizzy, a little disoriented, and need to sit down or rest. Again, this symptom doesn’t occur in everyone. Some people sweat profusely, usually a cold sweat that may be accompanied by some chills.

When a person has had a massive heart attack, they may have lost consciousness and they may not be breathing. Some people take irregular shallow breaths and you cannot rouse them or wake them up. Whether the signs of a heart attack are hugely noticeable, such as loss of consciousness, or just perceptible, it is always in your best interest to get immediate medical care.

Women may experience nausea and vomiting as well as chest pain during a heart attack.
Women may experience nausea and vomiting as well as chest pain during a heart attack.

It’s important that all people learn the signs of a heart attack so that they can recognize them in themselves and others. You do want to look for the most common sign, chest pain, but women should especially not overlook other signs like jaw pain and vomiting. It wasn’t until recently known that women tended to present with somewhat different symptoms than men, but being aware these differences, and knowing all the potential signs for both genders can save a life, and it could be your life!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

serenesurface

@donasmrs-- It's not an uncommon symptom. But that doesn't mean that everyone will experience it. Chest pain associated with a heart attack can be felt in different parts of the body. It can occur in the arm, in the shoulder, in the neck and in the jaw. If multiple areas are paining at the same time, that's a bigger sign that it might be a heart attack.

donasmrs

Is jaw pain a very common heart attack sign? I've never heard of this symptom before.

burcinc

My mom had multiple signs of a heart attack last month. She had chest pain, arm pain and jaw pain. So we obviously went to the hospital to get her checked out. Thankfully, she was not having a heart attack but her blood pressure was very high. They kept her in the ER that night to make sure that she wasn't really having a heart attack. They took blood three times. Apparently, signs of a heart attack may not show up in the first blood test.

The next day, she had an angiogram and when that came back normal as well, the doctor just adjusted her high blood pressure medications and let her go.

I'm glad that we were precautions and went to the hospital. Otherwise, we would constantly be wondering whether she had a heart attack or not. Now that we know her arteries are clear, she just has to keep her blood pressure under control.

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    • Smoking can increase a person's chances of having a heart attack.
      Smoking can increase a person's chances of having a heart attack.
    • Chest pain, nausea, and lightheadedness may all be symptoms of a heart attack.
      Chest pain, nausea, and lightheadedness may all be symptoms of a heart attack.
    • The most obvious signs of a heart attack is chest pain and shortness of breath.
      The most obvious signs of a heart attack is chest pain and shortness of breath.
    • It is a common misconception that people always clutch their chest when having a heart attack.
      It is a common misconception that people always clutch their chest when having a heart attack.
    • Women may experience nausea and vomiting as well as chest pain during a heart attack.
      Women may experience nausea and vomiting as well as chest pain during a heart attack.