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Will I Have Chest Pain If I Have a Heart Attack?

heartattackNot always, our expert says. And that's why you should know all the potential symptoms of a heart attack.

Q: I'll know I'm having a heart attack because my chest and arm will hurt, right?

A: Not necessarily. While some heart attacks do feature classic symptoms like chest and arm pain, the idea that they all do is FALSE.

About 25% of men and 40% of women don't have chest pain during heart attacks, says Harmony Reynolds, MD, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.

With or without chest and arm pain, women may have "shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sweating, palpitations, dizziness, loss of appetite, or pain in other areas such as the jaw, throat, neck, shoulders, or upper or middle back," Reynolds says.

 

Given so many possible signs, women might have trouble figuring out if their symptoms are a touch of the stomach flu or a true heart problem. "All too often I hear stories about women not wanting to bother the doctor," Reynolds says. "But medical professionals aren't 'bothered.' We are prepared for false alarms."

Heart Attack Symptoms: What To Do in an Emergency

Do you know how to recognize heart attack symptoms? A heart attack usually occurs when there is blockage in one of the heart's arteries. This is an emergency that can cause death. It requires quick action. Do not ignore even minor heart attack symptoms. Immediate treatment lessens heart damage and saves lives.

Recognizing Heart Attack Symptoms

Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. Not all heart attacks begin with the sudden, crushing chest pain that many people picture when they think of a heart attack. In fact, some heart attacks cause no symptoms at all. This is more common in people who have diabetes.

Heart attack symptoms may begin slowly, causing mild pain and discomfort. They can occur at rest or while you're active. Depending on your age, gender, and other medical conditions, symptoms may be more or less severe.

Heart Attack Symptoms and Warning Signs

Common heart attack symptoms and warning signs may include:

  • Chest discomfort that feels like pressure, fullness, or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest; it lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain and discomfort that extend beyond your chest to other parts of your upper body, such as one or both arms, back, neck, stomach, teeth, and jaw
  • Unexplained shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Other symptoms, such as cold sweats, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness, anxiety, indigestion, and unexplained fatigue

Chest pain and discomfort are the most common heart attack symptoms for both men and women. But, women are more likely than men to also experience other symptoms, too. These might include shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unexplained extreme fatigue, and neck, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal pain.

What To Do When Heart Attack Symptoms Occur

If you or someone you are with experiences chest discomfort or other heart attack symptoms, call 911 right away. Do not wait more than 5 minutes to make the call. While your first impulse may be to drive yourself or the heart attack victim to the hospital, it is better to call 911. Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel can begin treatment on the way to the hospital and are trained to revive a person if his heart stops.

If you witness heart attack symptoms in someone and are unable to reach EMS, drive the person to the hospital. If you are experiencing heart attack symptoms, do not drive yourself to the hospital unless you have no other choice.

Many people delay treatment because they doubt they really are having a heart attack. They don't want to bother or worry their friends and family. But it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Put Time on Your Side

Acting quickly in response to heart attack symptoms can save lives. If given within an hour of the first heart attack symptoms, clot-busting and artery-opening medications can stop a heart attack. Waiting longer than 1-2 hours for treatment can increase damage to the heart and reduce the chances of survival. About half the people who die from heart attacks do so within the first hour after heart attack symptoms begin.

What To Do Before Paramedics Arrive

If you see someone who appears to be having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Then, follow these steps:

  • Try to keep the person calm, and have them sit or lie down.
  • If the person is not allergic to aspirin, have them chew and swallow a baby aspirin (It works faster when chewed and not swallowed whole).
  • If the person stops breathing, you or someone else who is qualified should perform CPR immediately. If you don't know CPR, the 911 operator can assist you until the EMS personnel arrive.

Be Prepared

Nobody plans on having a heart attack. It is best to be prepared, just in case. Here are some steps you can take before heart attack symptoms occur:

  • Memorize the list of heart attack symptoms and warning signs; remember that you need to call 911 within 5 minutes of when heart attack symptoms begin.
  • Talk to family and friends about the warning signs and the importance of calling 911 immediately.
  • Know your heart disease risk factors and do what you can to reduce them.
  • Create a "heart attack survival plan" that includes information about medicines you are taking, allergies, your doctor's number, and people to contact in case you go to the hospital. Keep this information in your wallet.
  • Arrange in advance to have someone care for dependents in the event of an emergency.

By Susan Davis
WebMD