Heart attack symptoms: Knowing when to call 911 for help

PHOENIX - When it comes to heart attack symptoms, do you know when it's considered a medical emergency?

Chest discomfort or pain

This discomfort or pain can feel like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in your chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.

Upper body pain

Pain or discomfort may spread beyond your chest to your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. You may have upper body pain with no chest discomfort.

Stomach pain

Pain may extend downward into your abdominal area and may feel like heartburn.

Shortness of breath

You may pant for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before you develop chest discomfort, or you may not experience any chest discomfort.

Anxiety

You may feel a sense of doom or feel as if you're having a panic attack for no apparent reason.

Lightheadedness

In addition to chest pressure, you may feel dizzy or feel like you might pass out.

Sweating

You may suddenly break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.

Nausea and vomiting

You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.

Most heart attacks begin with subtle symptoms — with only discomfort that often is not described as pain. The chest discomfort may come and go. Don't be tempted to downplay your symptoms or brush them off as indigestion or anxiety.

Don't "tough out" heart attack symptoms for more than five minutes. Call 911 or other emergency medical services for help.

If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort, if there are absolutely no other options.

Heart attack symptoms vary widely. For instance, you may have only minor chest discomfort while someone else has excruciating pain. One thing applies to everyone, though: If you suspect you're having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.

Additional information for women, elderly and people with diabetes:

Women may have all, none, many or a few of the typical heart attack symptoms. While some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is still a common symptom of a heart attack in women, many women have heart attack symptoms without chest pain, such as:

  • Pain in the back, shoulders or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain or "heartburn"
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Unusual or unexplained fatigue, possibly for days

Elderly people and people with diabetes may have no or very mild symptoms of a heart attack, so it's especially important not to dismiss heart attack symptoms in people with diabetes and older adults even if they don't seem serious.

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