When To Go to the ER: Heart Attack Signs and Warnings

You should be aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke or a heart attack. Very rarely do these conditions begin with dramatic symptoms. For example, you might be surprised to learn that most men and women having a heart attack don't even realize it. That's because the vast majority of heart attacks happen slowly with just discomfort or mild pain. Relatively few heart attacks strike with a sudden, intense pain that makes someone clutch his or her chest in agony. More often, patients aren't sure what's wrong and don't get help soon enough.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

  • Chest discomfort: Discomfort in the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes that comes and goes. Chest discomfort is also described as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort radiating to one or both arms, the back, neck, or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath: This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, abdominal pain (epigastric) nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness. The warning signs for men and women are different. It is important to know and understand the differences:
    • Women are more likely than men to experience some of the other uncommon symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
    • A third of women experience no chest pain at all when having a heart attack and 71 percent of women report flu-like symptoms for two weeks to a month prior to having a cardiac event.

Visit the American Heart Association for more information on the warning signs of a stroke or heart attack.