Heart Attack Symptoms

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Heart attacks have a beginning. These signs, sometimes called “pre-heart-attack symptoms,” can appear days or weeks ahead of the actual heart attack. While there are common signs regardless of gender, there may be some unique symptoms that tend to affect women more than men.

Early signs and symptoms of a heart attack may occur in 50% of patients. Recognizing the beginning of a heart attack means treatment can begin before any damage occurs.

Someone may show one or more of these common heart attack signs. When they start, they can be mild or come and go. Over time, the symptoms and pain become more intense. Stay alert and always pay attention to chest pressure.

Common Heart Attack Warning Signs

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

Uncommon Heart Attack Warning Signs

Some heart attack symptoms aren’t typical, but should be taken seriously.

  • A sharp or knifelike pain that occurs with coughing or breathing
  • Jaw pain or pain that spreads into the lower body
  • Difficult or labored breathing

Pre-heart-attack Symptoms – Female

Because women can have unique heart attack symptoms , they may be less likely to seek immediate medical care that could prevent heart damage.

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

Pre-heart-attack Symptoms – Male

Heart attack symptoms in men are similar but subtly different from women’s heart attack symptoms, and can include:

  • Pain and numbness on the left side of the body, including the arm and chest
  • Squeezing chest pressure or pain
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

Sometimes, gas can cause pain that feels like a heart attack.

Heart Attack Risk Factors

Some conditions may make some people more prone to heart attack. The risk factors include:

The American College of Cardiology has a tool to help you gauge your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).

Calculate your risk with the ASCVD Risk Calculator

Can You Save a Life?

Take the free course, Early Heart Attack Care, and earn your certificate.

Learn Early Heart Attack Care

  • Early Heart Attack Care (or EHAC) education teaches you to recognize the early signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • As an active bystander, you can save a life — even if it’s yours.

Prevent a Heart Attack

  • Learn the risk factors.
  • Understand how gender can affect symptoms.
  • Is it a heart attack? Learn the atypical symptoms.

Save a Life

  • If someone collapses, call 911!
  • Perform Hands-Only CPR.
  • Find and deploy an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Find American College of Cardiology Accredited Facilities in the Louisville Area

  • Norton Audubon Hospital
  • Norton Brownsboro Hospital
  • Norton Hospital
  • Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital
  • More

Heart and Vascular Care for the Whole Person

Norton Heart & Vascular Institute offers patient resources to support you and your family, including free classes for people of all ages who are seeking to improve cardiovascular health or living with a heart condition.

Cardiac Rehabilitation Program

Our cardiac rehabilitation providers are leaders in developing and applying innovative techniques that can help you recover and resume your life.

Connecting Hearts Support Group

The group provides education and support to individuals who have had a heart attack, are living with a heart condition or are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Heart Health Screenings

Prevention is the best way to manage heart disease, and screenings are available to detect early signs of cardiac and vascular disease and identify risk factors.

About Norton Heart & Vascular Institute

Every year, more than 137,000 people in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose Norton Heart & Vascular Institute specialists for their heart and vascular care. That’s more than any other health care provider.

  • Norton Healthcare’s adult-service hospitals in Louisville all have received Chest Pain Center accreditation from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). This is the seventh consecutive accreditation for all four hospitals, which ensures quality for the treatment of heart attack.
  • Norton Audubon Hospital, Norton Brownsboro Hospital and Norton Hospital all are recognized as having ACC Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI accreditation.
  • Norton Healthcare has the most facilities across the city of Louisville with the ability treat a life-threatening heart attack.
  • You have access to more than 100 physicians and advanced practice providers with specialized training and experience in a comprehensive range of conditions and treatments.
  • Patients can make appointments at 28 locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana. Telecardiology is offered at more than 30 sites in the region.
  • Norton Audubon Hospital, a key location for Norton Heart & Vascular Institute services, has been recognized with a HeartCare Center National Distinction of Excellence year after year by the American College of Cardiology. This is the only hospital in Louisville to be recognized for this distinction.
  • U.S. News & World Report 2023-24 Best Hospitals ranked Norton Healthcare’s adult-service hospitals in Louisville as high performing in heart attack, heart failure, aortic valve surgery and heart bypass surgery.
  • Norton Audubon Hospital earned ventricular assist device (VAD) accreditation from DNV – Healthcare and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  • Communicate with your health care provider, renew prescriptions, get lab results and more through your free Norton MyChart account.

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