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Heart Disease Health Center

Medical Emergency: Learn to Spot Stroke, Angina, and Heart Attack Symptoms

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Heart attacks and strokes can strike suddenly. Prompt treatment can save lives and reduce disability. Learn to recognize heart attack symptoms, angina symptoms, and stroke symptoms so that you will be prepared to call for emergency help.

Heart Attack Symptoms

A heart attack is life threatening. It occurs when blood flow and oxygen to the heart are blocked. If not treated quickly, heart attack causes a part of the heart muscle to die.

These are potential heart attack symptoms:

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

Some women have chest pain or discomfort during a heart attack, but it may not be the most obvious symptom. Women are more likely to have these kinds of heart attack symptoms:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Abdominal discomfort that may feel like indigestion
  • Discomfort in the neck, shoulder, or upper back

Most people who have a heart attack wait too long to get medical help. Often, they are unfamiliar with heart attack symptoms, or they're worried that a false alarm will leave them embarrassed.

If you or someone near you has heart attack symptoms, call 911 right away to get to a hospital emergency room. Don't delay calling for any more than five minutes. Calling for emergency transportation is best, because emergency medical personnel can start treatment, such as oxygen, heart medications, and pain relievers, as soon as they arrive. If you have heart attack symptoms and can't call 911 for some reason, have someone else drive you to the emergency room. Never drive yourself unless you have no other option.

While you're waiting for an ambulance, here are other ways to help yourself or someone else having heart attack symptoms:

  • The person having symptoms of a heart attack should stop all activity and try to remain calm.
  • If you're having heart attack symptoms, consider chewing and swallowing an aspirin, but only if your doctor has previously instructed you to do so. Otherwise, don't.
  • If a person who might be having a heart attack becomes unconscious, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you're not CPR-trained, the 911 dispatcher can talk you through the steps until help arrives.

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