©2018 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. eMedicineHealth does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Information.

What Are the Signs of An Impending Heart Attack?

Reviewed on 7/15/2020

What Is a Heart Attack?

Common signs you are about to have a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in the arm or neck and racing heartbeat.
Common signs you are about to have a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in the arm or neck and racing heartbeat.
A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI), happens when the blood flow from the coronary arteries to the heart is reduced or blocked completely. When this occurs, it starves the heart muscle of oxygen and nutrients, resulting in damage to the heart.

What Are Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not drive yourself to a hospital.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain (angina) or discomfort 
    • May feel like pressure, squeezing, or fullness
    • Lasts for more than a few minutes
    • May go away and come back
  • Pain, tingling, or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing or irregular heartbeat
  • Cold sweat/clammy skin
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Belching
  • Heartburn
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue

Both women and men tend to have chest pain or discomfort when a heart attack occurs, but women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, and back or jaw pain.

What Causes a Heart Attack?

The main cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease, a condition that develops over time in which plaque builds up along the walls of the coronary arteries, narrowing the channels through which blood flows. If a plaque ruptures, this can result in a blood clot which can block off the artery and prevent blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle, causing a heart attack.

Other less common causes of heart attack include:

  • Temporary spasm of a coronary artery 
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which is a tearing of the coronary artery wall

How Is a Heart Attack Diagnosed?

If a heart attack is suspected, diagnostic tests may include:

SLIDESHOW

Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack See Slideshow

What Is the Treatment for a Heart Attack?

Treatment for a heart attack in a hospital’s emergency department may include:

Surgical treatment for heart attack involves a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).

What Are Complications of a Heart Attack?

Complications of a heart attack include:

What Is the Life Expectancy for a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is not necessarily fatal. 

About one in five patients 45 years and older have another heart attack within five years of their first. Life expectancy after a heart attack depends on several factors, such as: 

  • Ethnicity: African Americans typically have a shorter post-heart attack life expectancy by about 6% compared with people of European descent. 
  • Gender: Women lose about 10% more of their life expectancy post-heart attack compared with men

How Do You Prevent a Heart Attack?

If you are at risk for having a heart attack, you may be able to prevent one from occurring or recurring in some cases. 

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 7/15/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

UpToDate.com

National Institutes of Health
CONTINUE SCROLLING FOR RELATED SLIDESHOW