Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Cardiovascular Services / Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

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 with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

Women are more likely to miss or ignore heart attack warning signs.

Many women under age 55 aren’t seeking timely treatment for heart attack because they expect the classic warning signs — tightening in the chest, shortness of breath, clutching the chest while dropping to one knee.

However, most fail to connect their symptoms with a heart condition, commonly mis-attributing them to fatigue, indigestion, stress or over exertion.  Recognize atypical symptoms such as neck and shoulder pain, abdominal discomfort (easy to mistake for indigestion) and/or unusual fatigue which could be signs of a heart problem.

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!

Don’t wait more than five minutes
to call 9-1-1 or your emergency
response number.


When to call 911

  • 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
    With or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs
    Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving 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 are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at a hospital.

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