What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is cut off for too long. This can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle or death.

The importance of acting quickly

If you think you are having a heart attack, act quickly. Coronary artery disease sometimes won’t give you a second chance. One out of three people die at the first warning sign they might be having a heart attack.

If you are having symptoms of a heart attack—pain in your chest, pain radiating down your left arm, or indigestion and a funny feeling that something is wrong—act immediately.

Don’t wait an hour or two to see if you feel better. Call 911 for an ambulance.

The paramedics can help diagnose and stabilize you in the ambulance. If you reach the door of the hospital by ambulance, the death rate for heart attacks drops way down, to to under 5 percent.

Common warning signs of a heart attack

Learning and remembering the warning signs can save lives. Heart attacks can be sudden or intense, but most begin slowly. So these warning signs may be small at first. But big signs or small, if you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Some warning signs are:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, tightness, heaviness or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath

Less common warning signs include:

  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Indigestion-like discomfort in the chest, especially when being active
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Unexplainable anxiety, weakness or fatigue
  • Having a fast or irregular heartbeat, skin growing more pale, or having cold sweats

Women’s symptoms can be different

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience other common symptoms, particularly:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Back or jaw pain