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Heart Attack

Identifying Signs of a Heart Attack

Oftentimes, when you picture what someone having a heart attack looks like, you rely on the image Hollywood has given us: a red-faced man dramatically clutching his chest and stumbling to the floor. While some heart attack episodes do look like this, at least half of the heart attacks in the U.S. are much more subtle.

What does a heart attack look like?

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack – they are life-and-death emergencies when every second counts. There are medications and treatments now available to heart attack victims that can stop some heart attacks in progress, thus reducing disability and potentially saving a life. But, in order for these measures to be effective, the patient must receive them relatively quickly after heart attack symptoms first appear.

Heart Attack Symptoms

The most common signs of a heart attack include chest pain, chest heaviness, chest pressure and squeezing type of symptoms, jaw discomfort, shoulder pain or discomfort, and pain or discomfort in your back.

There are some other symptoms that may not be recognized as those of a heart attack and sometimes the symptoms aren’t directly in the chest. Some of these include nausea, heartburn and shortness of breath without any chest pain.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Women don’t always experience the same “classic” heart attack symptoms as men – many women report having vague or even “silent” symptoms like stomach pain, lightheadedness, fatigue, and a nervous, cold sweat.

Many heart attacks start off with subtle symptoms, with discomfort rather than pain. And this discomfort may come and go, but you shouldn’t downplay or brush off your symptoms as something less serious.

Heart Attack Symptoms - Act Fast in an Emergency

If you or someone you are with are experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, it’s safer to have it checked out, especially since time is so important in cardiac episodes. You shouldn’t wait more than five minutes to call 911, which is the fastest way to receive lifesaving treatment; treatment typically begins as soon as emergency medical services (EMS) staff arrives, or about an hour sooner than if someone is transported in a car. In addition, EMS staff are trained to revive a patient whose heart stops and patients who arrive to the emergency room in an ambulance generally receive faster treatment at the hospital.

Heart Attack Risk Factors

In addition to understanding the variety of symptoms, it’s also important to know what your risk of having a heart attack is. Think about whether a family member experienced a significant heart event at a young age, if you’re a smoker, diabetic, overweight and more. If you know you’re at risk of a heart attack or heart disease, it may help you pinpoint a heart attack sooner, or work to prevent one from happening in the first place.