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Published on February 23, 2017

14 Signs You Could Be Having a Heart Attack

By Eduardo Balcells, M.D. FACS
Interventional Cardiologist 

February is American Heart Month. We want you to pay extra attention to your heart health this month and all year long. Heart disease including heart attack is the number one killer of both men and women in America.

Do you know the warning signs of a heart attack? Yes, chest pain is the most common symptom, but there are several other signs of which you should be aware. Knowing them could save your life; or the life of someone you love.


Signs of a heart attack

These are the most common heart attack warning signs in both men and women:

  • Chest pain, discomfort, pressure or tightness (some people describe the sensation that an elephant is sitting on their chest) that lasts for a few minutes or comes and goes
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the back, jaw or neck
  • Pain or discomfort in the arm(s) or shoulder(s)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting

Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • A sense of doom or dread (your mind and body are telling you something is wrong)
  • Clammy skin, cold sweat or sweating in general
  • Fatigue (feeling extremely tired)
  • Heartburn&
  • Indigestion or upset stomach

Signs of a heart attack in women

Men and women can experience heart attack symptoms differently. While both often have chest pain or discomfort, women sometimes experience no chest pain at all and may be more susceptible to the following symptoms:

  • A sense of fullness, squeezing or pressure in the chest that either lasts a few minutes or comes and goes
  • Discomfort or pain in the jaw, stomach, back, neck and/or arm(s)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

What to do if you have symptoms

First, don't ignore your symptoms, even if they seem relatively minor. With a heart attack, we like to say, hearts can't wait. This means the sooner you receive treatment, the less likely you are to have significant damage to your heart muscle.

It's always better to be safe than sorry and you could save your life or the life of a family member or friend.

If you suspect you or a loved one is having a heart attack, the best thing you can do is call 9-1-1.

Avoid driving yourself to the hospital if you think you are having a heart attack. Driving yourself can endanger you and others on the road.

Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can:

  • Start medical treatment right away and stabilize you in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. This can save your life.
  • Run an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) in the ambulance and send the results directly to the hospital. This allows your doctor and medical team to prepare for your arrival and start treating you faster when you get to the hospital.
  • Revive you if you go into cardiac arrest and your heart stops completely.

The importance of regular checkups

It is important to see your primary care physician at least once a year for a checkup. Here's why:

  • He or she can recognize a potential heart problem and refer you to a cardiologist before you experience a heart attack or other complications.
  • If you have diabetes, you may have nerve damage from the disease. Just like how diabetes can dull the nerves in your feet, it can dull the nerves in your heart. If this occurs, you may not even recognize when you are having a heart attack. Again, seeing your doctor regularly can help detect heart disease before it leads to a life-altering heart attack.

Stay tuned for more articles on how you can improve your heart health so you can live life to the fullest with those you love. To learn more about heart health or to find a physician near you, visit