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Chest pain is often considered the hallmark symptom of a heart attack, but not everyone having a heart attack experiences the same pain. In particular, women, the elderly, or people with diabetes may experience no pain, or atypical symptoms. If you experience any of the symptoms listed below in combination with chest discomfort, call for emergency medical services right away.
Chest pain—tightness, squeezing, and/or pressure in the center of your chest that may last a long time, or go away and come back
Discomfort or pain in arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach
Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
Nausea or vomiting
A fear of impending doom or death
In addition to the above, women may have other, more subtle symptoms that may seem confusing, and not so obvious. These may include:
Extreme fatigue, which may occur days or weeks in advance
Pressure or pain in the lower chest, upper abdomen, or upper back
Lightheadedness, which may lead to fainting
Heart attacks can cause severe, permanent damage to the heart, or death. Quick medical treatment is important to increase the chance of survival and decrease the amount of damage to the heart. The sooner the blood flow is restored the better the outcomes tend to be. Ideally, treatment should be within the first hour after symptoms begin. Do not drive yourself or someone else to the hospital. Emergency medical service personnel can increase the chance of survival and decrease injury by giving treatments while on the way to the hospital.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Acute coronary syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 31, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Heart attack symptoms in women. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack%5FUCM%5F002039%5FArticle.jsp. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2014.
ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 31, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Symtoms and diagnosis of heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Symptoms-and-Diagnosis-of-Heart-Attack%5FUCM%5F002041%5FArticle.jsp. Updated March 22, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2014.
Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack%5FUCM%5F002039%5FArticle.jsp. Updated January 15, 2014. Accessed April 4, 2014.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/signs.html. Updated December 17, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2014.