What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Heart attacks may cause sharp pain in the chest, arms, back or jaw, or shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and indigestion. Symptoms are different for men and women.

You may know the classic symptom of a heart attack is chest pain (angina) that doesn’t go away when you rest. However, doctors have recently found that this is more likely a common symptom of men than women. Earlier studies of heart attacks focused mostly on men. Now studies are looking at heart attacks in women, too. Your doctor may know that the symptoms for men and women can differ.

The most common symptoms for men and women—just before or during a heart attack—are as follows:

Traditional symptoms (from studies done mostly with men)

  • Pain or discomfort in the centre of the chest
  • Discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • A cold sweat
  • Nausea or lightheadedness

Women’s symptoms (from newer studies done on women)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • A cold sweat
  • Nausea or dizziness


Men typically have symptoms right before or during a heart attack. But women can have symptoms for weeks before the attack. Here are some of the most common symptoms that women notice for a month or more before a heart attack:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety

Some people do not feel symptoms when they have a heart attack. These “silent heart attacks” can do just as much damage to your heart.

Don’t delay getting help

Should any symptoms occur that you believe are related to your heart, get help by calling an ambulance right away. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms go away. First responders, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics can begin testing and treatment even before you arrive at the hospital.

Once paramedics arrive, in addition to assessing your condition, they may have you chew an aspirin on the way to the hospital. Quick treatment at the hospital can help avoid lasting damage to your heart.

Many people die before they arrive at the hospital because they ignore their symptoms out of fear that something bad is happening.1 It is much better to seek care if you are unsure that your symptoms are related to heart disease and find that all is well than to die at home.

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