Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you think you are having a heart attack or unstable angina.
People who have unstable angina often describe
their symptoms as:
Starting within the past 2 months and becoming more
Limiting their physical activity.
Suddenly becoming more frequent, severe, or longer-lasting or
being brought on by less exertion than before.
Occurring at rest with no obvious exertion or stress. It may wake
Not responding to rest or to nitroglycerin.
The symptoms of stable angina are different from those of
unstable angina. Stable angina occurs at predictable times with a specific
amount of exertion or activity and may continue without much change for years.
It is relieved by rest or nitrates (nitroglycerin) and usually lasts less than
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Women are more likely than men to delay seeking help for a possible heart attack. Women delay for many reasons, like not being sure it is a heart attack or not wanting to bother others. But it is better to be safe than sorry. If you have symptoms of a possible heart attack, call for help.
When you get to the hospital, do not be afraid to speak up for what you need. To get the tests and care you need, be sure your doctors know that you think you might be having a heart attack.
Other ways to describe chest pain
People who are having a heart attack
often describe their chest pain in various ways. The pain:
May feel like pressure, heaviness, weight, tightness, squeezing,
discomfort, burning, a sharp ache (less common), or a dull ache. People often
put their fist to their chest when describing the pain.
May radiate from the chest down the left shoulder and arm (the
most common site) and also to other areas, including the left shoulder, middle
of the back, upper portion of the abdomen, right arm, neck, and jaw.
May be diffuse—the exact location of the pain is usually
difficult to point out.
Is not made worse by taking a deep breath or pressing on the
Usually begins at a low level, then gradually increases over
several minutes to a peak. The discomfort may come and go. Chest pain that
reaches its maximum intensity within seconds may represent another serious
problem, such as an
It is possible to have a "silent heart attack" without any symptoms, but
this is rare.
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.