Heart attack symptoms: Know what's a medical emergency

Whether the symptoms seem obvious or are more subtle, take them seriously and get immediate 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 the chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.
  • Upper body pain. Pain or discomfort may spread beyond the chest to the shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. Some people have upper body pain with no chest discomfort.
  • Stomach pain. Pain may extend downward into the belly area and may feel like heartburn.
  • Shortness of breath. You may gasp for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before any chest discomfort. Some people don't have 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 think that you're having a heart attack, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only 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 the 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. Symptoms of a heart attack in women may include:

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

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

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June 28, 2022 See more In-depth

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  6. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  7. Cardiac catheterization
  8. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): First aid
  9. Chelation therapy for heart disease: Does it work?
  10. Chest X-rays
  11. Coronary angiogram
  12. Coronary artery bypass surgery
  13. Coronary artery disease
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  16. Coronary artery disease FAQs
  17. Daily aspirin therapy
  18. Dizziness
  19. Drug-eluting stents
  20. Echocardiogram
  21. Ejection fraction: What does it measure?
  22. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  23. Excessive sweating
  24. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)
  25. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  26. Fatigue
  27. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  28. Flu shots and heart disease
  29. Four Steps to Heart Health
  30. Grass-fed beef
  31. Healthy Heart for Life!
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  34. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  35. Heart Attack Timing
  36. Heart disease
  37. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  38. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  39. Heartburn or chest pain?
  40. Interval Training
  41. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  42. Nausea and vomiting
  43. Niacin to improve cholesterol numbers
  44. NSAIDs: Do they increase my risk of heart attack and stroke?
  45. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  46. Omega-3 in fish
  47. Omega-6 fatty acids
  48. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  49. Pseudoaneurysm: What causes it?
  50. Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol
  51. Shortness of breath
  52. Silent heart attack
  53. Sleep disorders
  54. Heart disease prevention
  55. Stress test
  56. Symptom Checker
  57. Integrative approaches to treating pain
  58. Nutrition and pain
  59. Pain rehabilitation
  60. Self-care approaches to treating pain
  61. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  62. What is meant by the term "heart age"?