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Signs of a heart attack: What you need to know

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Know the signs

Despite the movie-depicted heart attack scenes that show someone suddenly grabbing his or her chest and falling over, most heart attacks start slowly with only mild pain or discomfort. In fact, many people aren't even sure what is wrong and end up waiting too long before seeking medical help. Here are the signs of a heart attack - if you experience these or anything that just doesn't feel right, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Chest discomfort

According to the American Heart Association, most heart attacks do involve discomfort in the center of the chest. It can last for more than a few minutes or can go away and come back. The discomfort may include pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in the upper body

Though chest discomfort is common, a heart attack can also elicit discomfort in other areas of the upper body. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or even stomach.

Shortness of breath

If you feel like you can't catch your breath or have other trouble breathing, you may be having a heart attack. You may even feel like you are having an anxiety attack. Take note that shortness of breath can occur with or without chest discomfort — so don't simply disregard trouble breathing with a fleeting panic attack or symptom of stress.

Nausea and lightheadedness

A heart attack can cause stomach upset, vomiting and dizziness. You may also break out in a cold sweat or feel fatigued.

Gender can make a difference

As with men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely to experience some of the other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain. If you are feeling any symptom that is out of the ordinary, tell a doctor or call 9-1-1 — fast! When it comes to survival and recovery from a heart attack, minutes really do matter.

More on heart-health


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10 Ways to reduce your risk of heart disease
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