Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

The key signs of a heart attack and what to do if you think you are having one. 

Being able to spot the signs of a heart attack could help save your life, or someone you love. But what is a heart attack and how do you know you might be having one?

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when blood stops flowing to the heart. This can happen if one of the blood vessels (arteries) that carry blood to your heart is blocked by a blood clot.

When blood stops flowing to your heart, your heart is deprived of the oxygen and other nutrients in your blood that it needs to function well and stay healthy. Your heart muscle will begin to die and it may stop beating altogether – this is called a cardiac arrest. It’s important to act fast if you think you’re having a heart attack.

The sooner the blocked artery can be opened and the blood flow restored to your heart, the less damage will be done to your heart. Minimising the damage improves your chances of surviving the heart attack.

How would I feel if I was having a heart attack?

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
  • chest pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness
  • neck pain or discomfort 
  • tightness around the lower jaw
  • dull ache between your shoulder blades in your back
  • shoulder pain or discomfort
  • numbness or tingling, or inability to use one or both arms.

It may feel like the pain is spreading from the centre of your chest to these other parts of the body.

You may also experience some of the following symptoms: 

  • feeling generally unwell 
  • nausea 
  • dizziness 
  • cold sweat 
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
Woman with headache

Are heart attack symptoms the same for everyone?

Warning signs of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Not everyone experiences all of the symptoms, and they may not be sudden or severe. Even though chest pain is the warning sign most commonly associated with a heart attack, some people won’t experience chest pain at all during an attack. This is why it’s so important to know all the warning signs of a heart attack and act quickly if you notice any of them.

Are heart attack symptoms the same for men and women?

Heart attack symptoms can even be different for men and women. In fact, it is thought that four in every ten women experience a heart attack without any chest pain. They may experience other warning signs instead, such as dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing, back pain or even unexplained tiredness.

It’s important to know all the warning signs to look out for, and to act quickly if you notice any of them.

What should I do if I think I'm having a heart attack?

If you, or someone else, are experiencing any warning signs of a heart attack, or if the symptoms are severe or get worse, call an ambulance immediately by dialling triple zero (000).

The earlier you act, and the sooner you receive treatment, the better for your health and your heart.

If you think you could be having a heart attack – make the call.

For more information

The National Heart Foundation of Australia has a downloadable heart attack fact sheet and action plan.
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