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Heart Attack Symptoms

Some heart attack symptoms, such as sudden chest pain, are well known — but not all heart attacks begin that way. It’s important to recognize all the possible symptoms of a heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction. That way, you can act quickly to get emergency medical attention at the first sign.

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, our specialists expertly diagnose and treat people with coronary artery disease. We help you reduce the risk of a heart attack and keep your heart healthy.

What Is a Heart Attack?

Your heart pumps blood throughout your body, providing oxygen and other nutrients that keep your organs healthy and functioning. The heart muscle also needs blood and oxygen, supplied through coronary (heart) arteries, to keep working properly. 

A heart attack happens when one or more coronary arteries become partially or completely blocked, cutting off blood flow to heart muscle tissue. Heart attacks usually result from a buildup of cholesterol and other fatty substances, called plaque, which narrows heart arteries. Learn more about this type of heart disease, called coronary artery disease.

Symptoms of Heart Attack

Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person, and some people experience no or mild symptoms. In some people, heart attacks occur suddenly, but warning symptoms can also appear hours, days or even weeks before.

Although women and men often experience different heart attack symptoms, some that are common to both include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort: You may feel pain, pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center or left side of your chest. The sensation usually lasts more than a few minutes and may come and go or be constant.
  • Shortness of breath: You may have difficulty breathing before or along with chest discomfort. It can happen during rest, your regular daily activities, or exercise.
  • Upper body pain or discomfort: Pain or discomfort can affect one or both arms, your back, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach.
  • Nausea or vomiting: You may experience nausea with or without vomiting.
  • Sweatiness: You may develop a sudden, profuse cold sweat with chest pain.

Heart attack symptoms in women

Chest pain happens to only about half of women who experience a heart attack. In fact, women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, including:

  • cold sweat
  • dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting 
  • extreme, unexplained fatigue (tiredness)
  • heartburn, indigestion or abdominal (belly) pain
  • nausea or vomiting

It might be easy to overlook these symptoms because they often occur with other, less serious conditions. If you are a woman, understanding the risk factors for a heart attack is important. That way, you can call for help right away if you experience symptoms. Learn more about risk factors and other details about women’s heart disease

Barnes-Jewish Hospital: Treatments for Heart Attack

Our cardiovascular specialists from Washington University have years of experience in diagnosing and treating all types of heart disease. We can help people with the most complex cases that may require highly advanced treatments. We provide the latest therapies and treatments available for coronary artery disease to help prevent heart attacks. Learn more about our coronary artery disease treatment.

Heart Disease Prevention at Barnes-Jewish Hospital

If you have coronary artery disease, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk. Our care teams offer screenings, the most up-to-date treatments and other services to help keep your heart healthy. Find out more about heart disease prevention

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University cardiovascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, please call 888-982-8794.