Section: Barnabas Health Heart Center News

Know the Symptoms of a Heart Attack


More than 1 million people in the nation have heart attacks each year, according to the US Department of Health and Senior Services. A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when one or more regions of the heart muscle experience a severe or prolonged lack of oxygen caused by blocked blood flow to the heart muscle.

If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off, muscle cells of the heart begin to suffer damage and start to die. Irreversible damage begins within 30 minutes of blockage. The result is dysfunction of the heart muscle in the area affected by the lack of oxygen or cell death.


Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that is often described as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or general pain. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.

Contrary to popular belief, more women than men die of heart attacks each year. While chest discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom for men and women, symptoms may vary. Studies from the American Heart Association show that women are more likely to associate their symptoms with less life-threatening conditions such as acid reflux, the flu or aging.

Major symptoms prior to a heart attack unique to men and women include:


  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Unusual fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold Sweats, clammy skin
  • Dizziness


  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness
  • Anxiety

With any heart disease, minutes matter. Fast action can save lives. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these above warning signs, act immediately and call 9-1-1.

Heart Attack Bystander Tips: After calling 9-1-1 . . . what's next?

The American College of Emergency Physicians advises:

  • Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives. Don't attempt to drive the person to the hospital.
  • The EMS dispatcher may give pre-arrival instructions for the administration of aspirin (not acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen) and nitroglycerin (if prescribed) while emergency-response units are en route to the scene.
  • If the person is conscious, keep the person calm and help him or her into a comfortable position. The victim should lie down, loosen clothing around the chest area and remain calm until the ambulance arrives.
  • If the person becomes unconscious, make sure the person is lying on his or her back. Clear the airway and loosen clothing at the neck, chest and waist. Check for breathing and pulse; if absent, and if trained to do so, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
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