Someone clutching their chest.

What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like: Common Signs and Symptoms to Be Aware Of

How to Tell If You're Having a Heart Attack

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart attacks are a primary cause of death for men and women in the U.S. A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, happens when a blockage obstructs blood flow, preventing adequate amounts of oxygen-rich blood from getting to the heart. Due to this lack of blood, damage to a section of the heart occurs. As more time passes, the damage becomes greater and greater. Without timely medical intervention, the section of the heart may die. Knowing the signs of a heart attack includes being educated about the sensations of the symptoms. So, what des a heart attack feel like? Let’s take a look.

What Causes a Heart Attack?

Typically, a heart attack happens when a heart blockage occurs. This can be a blood clot resulting from a buildup of fat in the coronary arteries. The leading cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is an accumulation of cholesterol, fats and other substances that line the coronary artery. Parts of this lining, called plaque, can break off and block the heart, resulting in what is known as a heart attack.

What Are the Risk Factors?

There are a few risk factors for a heart attack that cannot be changed, such as family history, age, or sex. The good news is that many other risk factors for a heart attack can be controlled. Here are some examples of these risk factors.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure places excessive force on blood vessels, causing vessels to rupture or fat plaques to dislodge. High blood pressure can be managed with medication, stress management and lifestyle changes.


Consuming a diet that is high in saturated fats, cholesterol and salt can lead to a heart attack. Fats can form plaque buildup in blood vessels. Salt can create high blood pressure, placing excessive force on the vessels.

Physical Activity

A sedentary lifestyle poses a higher risk for a heart attack. Getting enough exercise and maintaining physical fitness are preventative measures.


Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce the risk of a heart attack. Increased weight impacts the amount of effort the heart requires to work efficiently.

Smoking or Alcohol

Smoking and alcohol can raise blood pressure and increase triglyceride levels. Smoking also lowers the amount of oxygen that can be efficiently carried by the blood. Smoking can also destroy blood vessels and heart muscles.

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

As we said before, it is good to know what a heart attack symptoms so that you can notice the signs in yourself and also a loved one.The AHA recognizes the following as signs of a heart attack.
Shortness of Breath

The heart provides oxygen to the body and tissues. If the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body, a person can feel short of breath due to the lack of oxygen.

Chest Discomfort

Chest discomfort can present as pain at the center of the chest that either lasts longer than a couple of minutes or comes and goes. The pain can feel like a pressure, squeezing, or fullness within the area.

Upper Body Pain

Other parts of the body can exhibit pain. There may be a pain in one or both of the arms. The neck, jaw, abdomen, or back can also feel pain.

Weakness or Nausea

Feeling extreme fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, or nausea can be a sign of a heart attack. Fatigue can occur doing simple tasks that usually do not result in tiredness, like vacuuming or walking to the car.

Signs of Heart Attack in Women

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Understanding the different signs of a heart attack in women may help to save their lives. Women may have different signs of a heart attack compared to the classic, well-known symptoms exhibited in men. The signs of a heart attack are much more subtle in women, so women may not seek help promptly.

In addition to, or sometimes in place of, the typical signs of a heart attack, women may experience pain as a dull ache and they may experience prolonged feelings of fatigue, almost as if they have the flu. In women, heart blockages can occur in the smaller arteries, causing much more vague signs of a heart attack. Although the signs may be different, the result can be just as deadly.

Emergency Response for a Heart Attack

A heart attack is always an emergency. If you suspect that you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 and seek medical assistance immediately. An ambulance is necessary and should be called unless emergency response is not available in the area. The faster medical assistance is obtained, the better the chances are of a positive outcome.

Do not try to drive yourself or the person to the doctor or hospital. A baby aspirin (81 milligrams of aspirin) or a dose of regular strength aspirin can be administered while waiting for medical assistance.

If a person becomes unresponsive, stops breathing and has a weak or no pulse, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or electrical shock (defibrillation) to the heart may be necessary. People who are CPR trained may help until emergency assistance arrives.

Treatment Options for Heart Attacks

Heart attack treatment focuses on creating blood flow to the heart and minimizing heart damage. Medications may be administered to decrease blood viscosity. This allows blood to flow through arteries more freely, helps to dissolve clots, prevents abnormal heart rhythms and alleviates stress on the cardiovascular system.

Surgery to open the artery and increase blood flow to the heart may also be necessary. These surgeries include stents to create and maintain a path for blood to flow. Coronary angiography, which does not require a stent, may be able to open blocked arteries in some cases.

What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like: An Overview

What does a heart attack feel like? Well, now you know, and you know how to avoid one as well. For heart attack prevention, a healthy lifestyle is the main factor that can prevent a heart attack or prevent another heart attack from occurring. Keeping fit, eating right and managing stress can keep the heart healthy and strong, and can prevent heart attacks.

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