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Heart Attack and Unstable Angina - Overview

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
  • Sweating.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.

Here are some other ways to describe the pain from heart attack:

  • Many people describe the pain as discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or heaviness in the chest.
  • People often put their fist to their chest when they describe the pain.
  • The pain may spread down the left shoulder and arm and to other areas camera.gif, such as the back, jaw, neck, or right arm.

Unstable angina has symptoms similar to a heart attack.

What should you do if you think you are having a heart attack?

If you have symptoms of a heart attack, act fast. Quick treatment could save your life.

If your doctor has prescribed nitroglycerin for angina:

  1. Take 1 dose of nitroglycerin and wait 5 minutes.
  2. If your symptoms don't improve or if they get worse, call 911 or other emergency services. Describe your symptoms, and say that you could be having a heart attack.
  3. Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will tell you what to do. The operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Aspirin helps keep blood from clotting, so it may help you survive a heart attack.
  4. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

If you do not have nitroglycerin:

  1. Call 911 or other emergency services now. Describe your symptoms, and say that you could be having a heart attack.
  2. Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will tell you what to do. The operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Aspirin helps keep blood from clotting, so it may help you survive a heart attack.
  3. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

The best choice is to go to the hospital in an ambulance. The paramedics can begin lifesaving treatments even before you arrive at the hospital. If you cannot reach emergency services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. Do not drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other choice.

If you think you are having unstable angina but you are not sure, follow the steps listed above. Unstable angina can lead to a heart attack or death, so you need to have it checked right away.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 08, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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