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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Attack and Unstable Angina - Symptoms

Heart attack

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you think you are having a heart attack.

Nitroglycerin. If you typically use nitroglycerin to relieve angina and if one dose of nitroglycerin has not relieved your symptoms within 5 minutes, call 911. Do not wait to call for help.

Unstable angina

Unstable angina symptoms are similar to a heart attack.

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you think you are having a heart attack or unstable angina.

People who have unstable angina often describe their symptoms as:

  • Starting within the past 2 months and becoming more severe.
  • Limiting their physical activity.
  • Suddenly becoming more frequent, severe, or longer-lasting or being brought on by less exertion than before.
  • Occurring at rest with no obvious exertion or stress. Some say these symptoms may wake you up.
  • Not responding to rest or nitroglycerin.

The symptoms of stable angina are different from those of unstable angina. Stable angina occurs at predictable times with a specific amount of exertion or activity and may continue without much change for years. It is relieved by rest or nitrates (nitroglycerin) and usually lasts less than 5 minutes.

Women's symptoms

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.

Women are more likely than men to delay seeking help for a possible heart attack. Women delay for many reasons, like not being sure it is a heart attack or not wanting to bother others. But it is better to be safe than sorry. If you have symptoms of a possible heart attack, call for help. When you get to the hospital, don't be afraid to speak up for what you need. To get the tests and care that you need, be sure your doctors know that you think you might be having a heart attack.

For more information, see Heart Disease and Stroke in Women: Reducing Your Risk.

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