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Heart Disease Health Center

Recognizing Heart Attack, Stroke, and Angina

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Heart Attack Symptoms: What to Watch Out for continued...

Familiarize yourself with these heart attack symptoms:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they may come and go.
  • Discomfort in other areas, such as the neck, arms, jaw, back, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Women may get chest pain or discomfort, but in many cases, it's not the most obvious symptom. Instead, they're more likely than men to have these symptoms:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Nausea or indigestion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Abdominal discomfort that may feel like indigestion
  • Discomfort described as pressure/ tightness or an ache in the neck, shoulder, or upper back

In the weeks before an actual heart attack, some women may get these signs as a warning that an artery is blocked. If you develop unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath, or abdominal pressure that feels like indigestion, call your doctor, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist and chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "That's the time to come in for an evaluation."

Heart Attack Symptoms: What to Do

If you or someone near you has heart attack symptoms, don't wait for more than 5 minutes to call 911. Have someone else drive you to the emergency room only if you can't call 911 for some reason, experts say. Never drive yourself unless you have no other option.

"People need to understand that 911 gets you into the hospital in a really rapid manner," Daya says. "You bypass a lot of the process in the waiting area and you're immediately taken back."

Calling 911 is best because emergency medical personnel can start treatment, such as oxygen, heart medications, and pain relievers, as soon as they reach you. They can also alert the hospital to begin preparations for tests and treatment.

Before the ambulance arrives, here are other ways to help yourself or someone else having heart attack symptoms:

  • The patient should chew and swallow an aspirin.
  • The patient should stop all activity, lie still, and try to remain calm.
  • If the patient becomes unconscious, stops breathing, and doesn't respond to stimulation, such as shaking, he or she may be in cardiac arrest. In other words, the heart stops beating. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is on hand, follow instructions on the device and use it immediately. The device can deliver an electrical shock that can restore normal heart rhythm and make the heart beat again. If the heart doesn't start beating, a trained person should begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • If the patient becomes unconscious, doesn't have a pulse, or isn't breathing, a trained person should perform CPR. If you're not CPR-trained, a 911 dispatcher may be able to talk you through the steps until help arrives.

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