Heart attack symptoms: Know what's a medical emergency

Whether your symptoms seem obvious or are more subtle, take them seriously and get medical care.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Typical heart attack symptoms

  • Chest discomfort or pain. This discomfort or pain can feel like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in your chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.
  • Upper body pain. Pain or discomfort may spread beyond your chest to your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. You may have upper body pain with no chest discomfort.
  • Stomach pain. Pain may extend downward into your abdominal area and may feel like heartburn.
  • Shortness of breath. You may pant for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before you develop chest discomfort, or you may not experience any chest discomfort.
  • Anxiety. You may feel a sense of doom or feel as if you're having a panic attack for no apparent reason.
  • Lightheadedness. In addition to feeling chest pressure, you may feel dizzy or feel like you might pass out.
  • Sweating. You may suddenly break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.
  • Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Heart palpitations. You may feel as if your heart is skipping beats, or you may just be very aware that your heart is beating.

Get help immediately

Heart attack symptoms can vary widely. For instance, you may have only minor chest discomfort while someone else has excruciating pain.

One thing applies to everyone, though: If you suspect that you're having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency medical services number.

If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort, if there are absolutely no other options.

Symptoms may not be dramatic

Movies and TV often portray heart attacks as dramatic, chest-clutching events. But heart attacks often begin with subtle symptoms — such as discomfort that may not even be described as pain.

It can be tempting to try to downplay your symptoms or brush them off as indigestion or anxiety. But don't "tough out" heart attack symptoms for more than five minutes. Call 911 or other emergency medical services for help.

Women may have different symptoms

Women may have all, many, a few or none of the typical heart attack symptoms. Some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is still a common symptom of a heart attack in women. However, many women have heart attack symptoms without chest pain. They may include:

  • Pain in the neck, back, shoulders or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain or "heartburn"
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Unusual or unexplained fatigue, possibly for days

Additional information for older adults and people with diabetes

Older adults and people with diabetes may have no or very mild symptoms of a heart attack. Never dismiss heart attack symptoms, even if they don't seem serious.

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Jan. 20, 2021 See more In-depth

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  9. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): First aid
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  11. Chest X-rays
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  19. Dizziness
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  21. Echocardiogram
  22. Ejection fraction: What does it measure?
  23. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  24. Excessive sweating
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  26. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  27. Fatigue
  28. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
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  30. Four Steps to Heart Health
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  33. Healthy Heart for Life!
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  40. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  41. Heartburn or chest pain?
  42. Infographic: How heart-healthy people can suffer a heart attack
  43. Interval Training
  44. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  45. Nausea and vomiting
  46. Niacin to boost your HDL, 'good,' cholesterol
  47. NSAIDs: Do they increase my risk of heart attack and stroke?
  48. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  49. Omega-3 in fish
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  51. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  52. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  53. Pseudoaneurysm: What causes it?
  54. Put fish on the menu
  55. Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol
  56. Shortness of breath
  57. Silent heart attack
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  60. Stress test
  61. Symptom Checker
  62. Integrative approaches to treating pain
  63. Nutrition and pain
  64. Pain rehabilitation
  65. Self-care approaches to treating pain
  66. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  67. What is meant by the term "heart age"?
  68. Infographic: Women and Heart Disease