What Is Heart Attack Pain Like?

Reviewed on 1/19/2022
Older man holding his right hand to his chest
Symptoms of a heart attack (myocardial infarction) include chest pain that may feel like squeezing or fullness, mild chest pressure or discomfort, or heartburn.

A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI), occurs when blood flow from the arteries that carry oxygenated blood to the heart muscle (coronary arteries) is decreased or blocked completely. When this happens, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, causing damage to the heart. 

23 Symptoms of Heart Attack

Heart attack pain may occur in the chest or other areas of the body. 

Chest pain (angina) from a heart attack can occur suddenly, lasts for more than a few minutes, may go away and come back, and: 

  • May feel like squeezing or fullness
  • May feel like mild chest pressure or discomfort
  • May feel like heartburn

Pain, tingling, or discomfort of a heart attack may occur in other areas of the body including: 

  • Back
  • Neck
  • One or both arms
  • Jaw
  • Stomach

Other symptoms of a heart attack include: 

  • Shortness of breath (may occur with or without chest pain)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Racing or irregular heartbeat
  • Cold sweats/clammy skin
  • Belching
  • Heartburn
  • Back or jaw pain

Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women; however, women are more likely to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

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

What Causes a Heart Attack?

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

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, it is diagnosed with a patient history and physical exam along with diagnostic tests such as:

What Is the Treatment for a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. Do not attempt to drive yourself. 

A heart attack is treated in a hospital’s emergency department and treatment may include:

Surgical treatment for heart attack is a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), in which a blocked coronary artery is bypassed using a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body. 


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Reviewed on 1/19/2022
Image Source: iStock Images