If you ask about the symptoms of a heart attack, most people think of chest pain. Over the last couple of decades, however, scientists have learned that heart attack symptoms aren’t so clear-cut.
It’s important to dig a little deeper to understand the variety of symptoms that may indicate a heart attack. Uncovering more information can help you learn when to help yourself or your loved ones.
What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Some people can have few symptoms and are surprised to learn they’ve had a heart attack. If you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. It is important for you to know the most common symptoms of a heart attack and also remember these facts.
Early symptoms of heart attack can include the following:
- mild pain or discomfort in your chest that may come and go, which is also called “stuttering” chest pain
- pain in your shoulders, neck, and jaw
- nausea or vomiting
- lightheadedness or fainting
- feeling of “impending doom”
- severe anxiety or confusion
Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Men
You’re more likely to experience a heart attack if you’re a man. Men also have heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. If you have a family history of heart disease or a history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, or other risk factors, your chances of having a heart attack are even higher.
Fortunately, a lot of research has been done on how men’s hearts react during heart attacks.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:
- standard chest pain that feels like “an elephant” is sitting on your chest, with a squeezing sensation that may come and go or remain constant and intense
- upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
- shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you can’t get enough air, even when you’re resting
- dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
- breaking out in a cold sweat
Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women
In recent decades scientists have realized that heart attack symptoms can be quite different in women than in men.
In 2003, the journal Circulation published the findings of a multicenter study of 515 women who’d experienced a heart attack. The most frequently reported symptoms did not include chest pain. Instead, women reported unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, and anxiety. Nearly 80 percent reported experiencing at least one symptom for more than a month before their heart attack.
Symptoms of heart attack in women include:
- unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
- sleep disturbances
- shortness of breath
- indigestion or gas-like pain
- upper back, shoulder, or throat pain
- jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
- pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm
Pay attention to these other possible symptoms of a heart attack:
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (especially if you are a woman)
- Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) and vomiting
- Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
Silent Heart Attack Symptoms
A silent heart attack is like any other heart attack, except it occurs without the usual symptoms. In other words, you may not even realize you’ve experienced a heart attack.
Silent heart attacks are more common among people with diabetes and in those who’ve had previous heart attacks.
Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack include:
- mild discomfort in your chest, arms, or jaw that goes away after resting
- shortness of breath and tiring easily
- sleep disturbances and increased fatigue
- abdominal pain or heartburn
- skin clamminess
The more signs and symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you’re having a heart attack.Base your decision on what feels normal and abnormal for you. If you haven’t experienced symptoms like this before, don’t hesitate to get help. If you don’t agree with your doctor’s conclusion, get a second opinion.