Emergency Care For You

Health Tips

Heart Attack Symptoms

It is important to take symptoms seriously and get medical assistance by calling 9-1-1 immediately if you think you or a loved one is having a heart attack. Heart disease remains the nation's number one killer of both men and women. Do not attempt to drive the person to the hospital; if his or her condition should worsen, there is nothing you can do to help while driving.

The most common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, or back.
  • Chest discomfort associated with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath.

Some less common warning signs of heart attack that should be taken seriously, especially of they accompany any of the above symptoms include:

  • Abnormal chest pain (angina), stomach, or abdominal pain.
  • Nausea or dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness, or fatigue.
  • Palpitations, cold sweat, or paleness.

Not all these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and return. However in all cases, a person can help lower the chance of dying from a heart attack by recognizing symptoms and getting medical help immediately.

If you think someone is having a heart attack, immediately call an ambulance. Ambulance crews have training and equipment to care for heart attack patients immediately and while they are being transported to the hospital. The victim should stop all physical activity; lie down, loosen clothing around the chest area, and remain calm until the ambulance arrives. If possible stay with the victim until the ambulance arrives.

If the victim becomes unconscious, check for breathing and pulse; if absent, and if trained to do it, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If the victim is alert, have them chew and swallow an aspirin unless the person's physician has advised otherwise (e.g. due to allergies or possible other medications or known diseases).

You can reduce your chances of having a heart attack by quitting smoking, and non smokers should not start. People can also lose excess weight, exercise regularly, eat a low cholesterol diet, and take medications to reduce cholesterol if prescribed. It's also important to maintain a healthy blood pressure, control diabetes, and avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Talk to your physician about taking aspirin if you have major risk factors for heart disease. Get regular checkups, and if you have a family history of heart disease, it's especially important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle. More information can be found on the American Heart Association's website www.americanheart.org