Heart attack: signs, symptoms, and complications


Symptoms of an acute heart attack , also called a myocardial infarction (MI), can range from overt chest pain to less obvious symptoms such as sweating, nausea, fatigue, and / or a feeling of impending doom. Heart attacks can also occur without any symptoms and are only diagnosed after the fact, which is often called a silent heart attack .

Also, women tend to experience heart attacks differently than men. Since symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, it is important to listen to your body and not ignore any unusual or scary symptoms. This is especially important for those who are ill or at risk for coronary artery disease (CHD).

Get Medication Information / Gary Foerster

Classic symptoms

There is no typical heart attack, but there are several symptoms that most people experience.

  • Chest pain (angina): Most men and women describe chest pain during a heart attack, although the terminology they use varies and can include a feeling of fullness , tightness , or burning. Others compare the pain to the feeling of a lump or heaviness in the chest. This is often concentrated in the center or left side of the chest. Men are more likely than women to describe chest and left arm pain during a heart attack. Whatever the nature or location of the pain from a heart attack, it can start gradually and come and go, come on suddenly, or just feel a dull, constant ache. It is important to notice any changes in the nature of the pain, especially when less and less activity is required to start.
  • Shortness of breath: During a heart attack, feeling pressure in the chest can make it difficult to breathe.
  • Upper body pain, stiffness, or numbness: These can occur in one or both arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper abdomen.
  • Cold Sweats: Profuse sweating is a common response to stress and an aspect of the fight or flight response that tells the brain that the body is somehow under threat.
  • Nausea and / or vomiting
  • Delirium, dizziness, or fainting ( fainting ): As the heart attack progresses and part of the heart is damaged, the blood pressure drops. This can slow blood flow to the brain, which in turn can lead to dizziness or loss of consciousness.

Other symptoms

In addition to the classics, there are other symptoms associated with myocardial infarction that are less common or may seem unrelated to a heart problem:

  • Fatigue: Reduced blood flow to the heart can drain the body and cause severe fatigue, which can occur days or weeks before a heart attack and be an important warning sign.
  • Changes in heartbeat: This can be a fast heartbeat, an irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Upset stomach – Some people complain of heartburn or indigestion.
  • Bluish tint to the lips, hands, or feet: This is a sign that blood is not reaching these areas.

Differences in women

Women tend to experience and respond to heart attacks differently than men. According to the Cleveland Clinic , they are more likely to ignore or downplay their feelings (and therefore delay seeking medical attention) because their symptoms are often different from the classics or more subtle than the classics. Women are more likely to blame stress or anxiety for their symptoms. However, in one study, women were more likely than men to seek medical attention for their symptoms before hospitalization (29.5%) compared to men (22.1%). However, 53% of women said the healthcare provider did not believe their symptoms were related to a heart problem, compared to 37% of men who said the healthcare professional seemed to rule out a heart problem .

In one study, women reported that they initially believed their heart attack symptoms were caused by sleep problems, arthritis, flu , osteoporosis, and dental infections, as well as other unrelated medical conditions .

Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the jaw, neck, arms, or between the shoulder blades during a heart attack. Among the heart attack symptoms reported by women are:

  • 'Non-classic' chest discomfort: While some women experience crushing chest pain during a heart attack, many experience other symptoms or less severe chest symptoms, such as a feeling of pressure or tightness. According to the Mayo Clinic , this may be due to the fact that women tend to have blockages in the small arteries that supply blood to the heart, as well as in the main arteries – so-called small vessel heart disease or ischemic microvascular disease. .
  • Pain in both arms: Men generally only feel pain in the left arm.
  • Sleep problems: Women are more likely to experience heart attack symptoms while resting or sleeping, including chest pain severe enough to wake them up at night.
  • Excessive Fatigue Caused by Seemingly Routine Activities – A simple walk from room to room can be exhausting.
  • Anxiety or feeling of imminent death.

In addition, women tend to have worse heart attacks than men, according to a 2016 American Heart Association statement. For example, those who have had a heart attack and are admitted to the hospital are more likely to experience shock, bleeding, or heart failure, probably due to delays in seeking treatment.


The short-term and long-term effects of a heart attack depend on how damaged the heart muscle is. For this reason, once an artery supplying blood to the heart is blocked, it is important to unblock it as quickly as possible to restore blood flow. In just a few minutes, it can make the difference between a full recovery, permanent disability, or death.

  • Increased risk of a second heart attack: After destruction, the damaged part of the heart forms scar tissue. This tissue cannot contract like healthy tissue, which can interfere with the normal function of the heart and increase the chance of another heart attack.
  • Problems with daily activities: Damaged tissues also make it difficult for someone to exercise, which could otherwise interfere with even simple tasks like climbing stairs.
  • Death: According to a 2018 report from the American Heart Association, approximately 14% of people who have a heart attack will die as a result.

When to go to the hospital

It cannot be overstated that any type of chest pain or discomfort with or without other possible symptoms of a heart attack should be considered a medical emergency . The same goes for milder symptoms that don't seem to have any other cause, seem strange, or cause feelings of panic or anxiety.

Always listen to your intuition for any symptoms you may feel and go directly to the nearest hospital emergency room or call 911.

Anyone with one or more risk factors for coronary artery disease should pay close attention to any sudden, unusual, or unexplained symptoms affecting the upper half of the body.

Get the word of drug information

Most hospitals are ready for surgery after a heart attack diagnosis is confirmed. In fact, much of the delay in starting treatment is in the hands of the person experiencing the event. Act immediately if you recognize the possible symptoms of a heart attack and describe them as such to medical personnel. Doctors, nurses and nurses will not judge you if it turns out that there is another explanation for your well-being. And if you are right, you will receive the necessary treatment to stop the event and preserve as much heart tissue as possible.

Frequently asked questions

  • The most common cause is a blockage in an artery that prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart. This can happen when the plaque inside the artery breaks down and forms a clot. When oxygen cannot reach the heart, part of the heart muscle dies. A heart attack can also be caused by a severe spasm of a coronary artery that blocks blood flow to the heart.

  • Symptoms are likely to last more than a few minutes if they are caused by a heart attack. In some cases, pain and discomfort can come and go for several hours. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, don't wait to find out how long they will last. Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.

  • A silent heart attack may cause no symptoms or be mild and short-lived. If you notice mild symptoms, they may include:

    • Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts a few minutes or comes and goes.
    • Discomfort in the upper back, neck, jaw, arms, or abdomen
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Nausea, dizziness, cold sweats.

    If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

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