Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often, people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
Chest discomfort — Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. 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 may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain 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 the signs, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter. Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 911.
Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff also are trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room.
If you can’t access emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. If you’re the one having symptoms, don’t drive yourself, unless you have absolutely no other option.
Stroke warning signs
If you or someone with you has one or more of these signs, don’t delay calling for help:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
Immediately call 911 or the EMS number so an ambulance — ideally with advanced life support — can be sent for you. Also, check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. It’s very important to take immediate action.
If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogenactivator (tPA) can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke. The drug is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of stroke within three hours of stroke symptom onset.