Recognizing a Heart Attack

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea or vomiting
  • pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms
  • lightheadedness or sudden weakness
  • fast or irregular heartbeat


Women may experience slightly different symptoms, including:

  • headache
  • extreme fatigue
  • pain or tightness in the jaw, neck, or arms


What to do in case of heart attack
Time is critical, as delays can further damage the heart muscle.

  1. Call 9-1-1 for emergency medical care (as soon as possible). Calling 9-1-1 is the fastest way to get to the hospital. Emergency medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment right away in the ambulance before you get to the hospital. EMS will call ahead to alert the Heart & Vascular Center that you're on your way. This allows the team to be prepared for when you arrive. DO NOT DRIVE YOURSELF!

  2. Follow the 9-1-1 operator's instructions. Try not to panic. Take long, deep breaths, stay calm, and speak slowly and clearly. The 9-1-1 operator may tell you to chew and swallow an aspirin, or put nitroglycerin under your tongue if you have any.

  3. Wait for help to arrive. If you feel faint or dizzy, unlock the door or lie down on the floor where emergency responders can see you when they come in. Try to stay calm and take slow deep breaths. Help is on the way.


What is a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the heart starts to die. Quick treatment can restore blood flow to the heart and save your life.

What causes a heart attack?
This usually occurs because fatty deposits called plaque have built up inside the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. If a plaque breaks open, the body tries to fix it by forming a clot around it. The clot can block the artery, preventing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Learn more on our Heart Attack Education page.