COVID-19: Check here for the latest information, visitor restrictions, and service changes


Educational health information to improve your well-being.

Heart Attack Warning Signs You Should Not Ignore

February 8, 2017
Published in: Heart

Man with heart pain clutching his chest

Heart attacks are the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Every year, approximately 735,000 Americans experience a heart attack or myocardial infarction. Ventricular fibrillation is a leading cause of death of heart attack sufferers, and this typically occurs before victims can make it to an emergency room. For those who can get treatment in time, the prognosis is excellent, as most modern treatments yield a survival rate of more than 90 percent. The remaining percentage of those who do eventually die are those who have suffered significant damage to the heart muscle during the heart attack or those who experience damage later.

Common Heart Attack Warning Signs

You can increase your odds of survival by paying attention to your body. While some heart attacks are sudden and intense, the majority start slowly, usually causing mild discomfort or low levels of pain. Call for help if you experience the following:

Pain or Discomfort in the Chest

Most people experiencing a heart attack will feel pain in the center of the chest. This pain typically lasts for more than a few minutes. However, sometimes the pain may go away and come back later. If you experience a feeling of uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in your chest you should seek treatment immediately.

Shoulder or Arm PainChest Pain is a Common Sign of a Heart Attack

Pain that radiates from the shoulder and down the arm is a classic sign of heart attack. In most cases, this pain starts in the chest and moves outward, but some individuals can experience just arm or shoulder discomfort during a heart attack.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, or gasping for air is a common heart attack symptom. This condition is referred to as dyspnea and can occur before, or during, chest pain. In some cases, this symptom occurs without other symptoms.

Jaw Pain, Earache, Headache or Toothache

Pain from a heart attack can spread down both arms and to the jaw or head. Some people report a headache, earache, or tooth pain as a symptom during a heart attack. You can experience this pain with, or without, chest pain when you have a heart attack.

Neck Pain or Back Pain

Neck and back pain are common ailments after injury and with arthritis. However, neck and back pain coupled with pain spreading down both arms can signal a myocardial infarction. Again, this can occur with or without chest pain. If you experience neck and back pain for no reason and don't have a history of injury or arthritis, it's still better to have it checked out, especially if other symptoms are involved.

Atypical Symptoms of Heart Attack

Not everyone who has a heart attack experiences typical symptoms. Although some people have a pattern of symptoms that recur, your symptoms may not be the same as the previous symptoms.

However, some people may have a recurring pattern of symptoms, but this is not always the case. A subsequent heart attack may not feel the same as the previous one. If you find yourself experiencing more than one of these symptoms, or these symptoms accompanied by the typical symptoms, you need to get help quickly.

Nausea, or Vomiting

Heart attack symptoms have been known to mimic stomach problems, like nausea and vomiting. Many people experiencing these symptoms assume it's due to a late-night taco they ate, but it can also be a heart attack, especially if you already suffering from heart disease.

Unexplained Fatigue

Although this is a symptom of a variety of ailments, some heart attack sufferers experience extreme fatigue while performing normal, every-day activities. Unfortunately, during a heart attack, blood flow to the heart decreases, putting additional stress on the muscle, which might make you feel fatigued.

Heartburn or Frequent Belching

Occasional heartburn after a few cups of coffee or a couple of slices for pizza is perfectly reasonable. However, if you start experiencing heartburn and it's never bothered you before, it might be a good idea to contact your doctor. The pain you're experiencing could be angina, a pain akin to heartburn that is caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart.

Feeling of Impending Doom

Many victims of heart attack feel as if something's not quite right. Some describe the feeling as a sense of impending doom. It's always best to listen to that little voice inside you. It's much better to be overly cautious than to ignore what your body is telling you.

Symptoms May Be Different for WomenWomen May Experience Different Heart Attack Symptoms

In addition to the typical symptoms of heart attack, women may experience a sudden onset of weakness, fatigue, body aches, nausea, or vomiting. Women may also experience sleep disturbances and feelings of anxiety.

Act Fast to Save Your Life

If you think you could be having heart attack symptoms, don't ignore your concerns. You should never feel embarrassed to call for help. Even if you're not sure that you're experiencing a heart attack, you should call 9-1-1.

Acting fast can save your life and remember – an ambulance is the safest way to get to the hospital. First responders can check on your vitals and start life-saving treatment right away. Furthermore, people arriving by ambulance often get faster treatment at the hospital. Every minute matters when it comes to getting treatment for myocardial infarction.