Heart attacks strike without warning and without any symptoms, so it’s no wonder that medical experts recommend that every adult over the age of 35 get an EKG once a year to identify heart disease early on. However, it can be hard to detect a heart attack if you don’t know what to look out for, so here are eight signs that you’re about to have one. If any of these symptoms bother you, contact your doctor immediately or seek immediate medical attention at the nearest hospital emergency room.
1) A feeling of unease in the core of your chest
When people have a heart attack, they often say it feels like an elephant is sitting on their chest. The discomfort doesn’t necessarily feel like pressure or pain; you may just feel uncomfortable and unable to breathe deeply. If you experience chest discomfort, especially if it is in one specific spot and not moving around, be sure to get help immediately. Chest discomfort is one of top 8 heart attack symptoms that you should never ignore.
2) Pain or discomfort in other areas
The most common signs of heart attack are chest pain or discomfort, which may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. But you could also experience symptoms in other areas of your body. One of our registered nurses shares eight warning signs you could be having a heart attack: difficulty breathing; nausea and vomiting; back or jaw pain; stomach pain with nausea and vomiting; abdominal swelling; diarrhea, especially if it occurs with abdominal pain and vomiting; fatigue that won’t go away even after getting more sleep than usual; and palpitations (irregular heartbeat). If you experience any of these symptoms while at rest, seek medical attention immediately. It can save your life, says another registered nurse on our team.
3) Shortness of breath
If you experience shortness of breath, it may not be a sign of heart attack; it could be pulmonary edema (fluid in your lungs) or cardiogenic shock. But, if you have other classic signs and symptoms, shortness of breath is one that many people don’t initially associate with heart attack. If you feel shortness of breath and several other heart attack signs are present, don’t rule out heart attack—it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Shortness of breath can also be caused by asthma or COPD, but if there are other signs such as pain in your arm or chest area that accompany your shortness of breath it could very well be caused by your heart.
Sometimes, we’re not even aware of how sick we are until it’s too late. If you feel nauseous and your stomach feels like it’s twisting and turning, it could be a sign that you’re about to have a heart attack. It’s important for us to recognize these symptoms so that we can get help fast; if your heart is healthy and there are no other risk factors in play, you’ll likely recover quickly from whatever brought on an episode. But if left untreated or undiagnosed, these episodes can be fatal.
5) Anxiety, restlessness, or lightheadedness
As with all heart attack symptoms, you probably won’t be too anxious or nervous at first. But if you start feeling these feelings with chest pain, it’s definitely cause for concern. Tingling in your arms and legs: If you feel tingling sensations in either arm or leg—or both—it could be a sign of an impending heart attack. This symptom is often paired with nausea and shortness of breath (see below). Extreme pain or discomfort in chest: These can usually be felt anywhere between your throat and lower neck on one side of your body. If you’re experiencing pain that feels like indigestion, it’s likely not related to your heart, but still needs to be addressed by a physician right away.
6) Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal pain
These can be signs of angina, which is caused by inadequate blood flow to your heart muscle. Angina is one step before a heart attack and its symptoms can occur at rest or during exercise. If you think you might be having angina, call 911 right away or have someone drive you to an emergency room immediately—don’t drive yourself as chest pain may worsen during driving. Emergency treatment typically includes administering nitroglycerin (via either injection or tablet) and providing oxygen therapy, usually using nasal cannula.
7) Upper body discomfort that feels like heartburn
Many people feel pain in their chest after eating spicy food, being stressed out, or simply lying down. But it’s important to note that it could be more than just heartburn. When your heart is straining and beating harder to meet your body’s needs, you may feel discomfort or tightness. If you’re having chest pain while at rest, call 9-1-1 immediately and ask for an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital. You could be having a heart attack. Chest pain isn’t always a sign of a heart attack, but if you experience these symptoms—especially with other signs like shortness of breath—you should seek medical attention right away.
8) Cold sweat and pallor
If you wake up suddenly from sleep with a cold sweat, it could be one of your first signs that something is wrong. Many heart attack sufferers have reported waking up in a panic and drenched in sweat for no apparent reason. While some may attribute cold sweats to nighttime anxiety or other sleep issues, it can actually be an early sign of cardiac arrest. As always, if something seems off, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor—especially if it persists.