9 Signs You May Be Having a Heart Attack

Did you know heart attacks have beginnings? Understand the early symptoms to help save a life.

Like other diseases, heart attacks have early signs and symptoms. These “beginnings” occur in more than 50 percent of people who have a heart attack. However, if recognized in time, these early symptoms can be treated before the heart is damaged.

Early heart attack signs and symptoms

Someone may experience any or all of the following symptoms. When they start, they can be mild or come and go. Over time, the symptoms and pain increase until the victim collapses.

  • Feeling of fullness 
  • Pain that travels down one or both arms 
  • Jaw pain 
  • Excessive fatigue 
  • Anxiety 
  • Nausea 
  • Back pain 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest pressure, squeezing, aching or burning

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Heart attacks in men versus women

Men may experience different heart attack symptoms from women. Why does it matter? Women are less likely to seek immediate medical care and are more likely to die from a heart attack.

  • Men normally feel pain and numbness in the left arm or side of chest. In women, these symptoms may appear on the right side. 
  • Women may feel completely exhausted, drained, dizzy or nauseous. 
  • Women may feel upper back pain that travels up into the jaw. 
  • Women may think stomach pain is the flu, heartburn or an ulcer.

How can you prevent a heart attack?

Eighty-five percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack. Know these early signs and symptoms of a heart attack and act on them immediately — before heart damage occurs.

  • Be alert for a heart attack in yourself or someone around you. Becoming an active bystander could save a life. 
  • When in doubt, call 911. First responders have the medical technology to quickly save a life.

Heart attack risk factors

Several risk factors increase your chance of having a heart attack. Many are controllable by making changes to your lifestyle. Discuss your personal risk factors with your doctor, including:

  • Chest pain, pressure, aching or tightness that may come and go 
  • A family history of heart disease 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Overweight or obese 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Using tobacco products 
  • Metabolic disease, diabetes or other illness 
  • For women: Using birth control pills, a history of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes or having a baby with low birth weight

*Adapted from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care Early Heart Attack Care brochure


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