Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most of them start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often the people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath: This feeling may occur with or without chest discomfort.
Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. If you or someone you are with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don't wait longer than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1.
Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive -- up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. The staff members are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. And you will get treated faster in the hospital if you arrive by ambulance.
If you're the one having symptoms, and you can't access emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. Don't drive yourself, unless you have absolutely no other option.