American Heart Association: Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are 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 with or without chest discomfort.

— Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom 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.

Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don't wait more than five minutes to call 911 or your emergency response number.


— This year an estimated 785,000 Americans will have a new coronary attack and about 470,000 will have a recurrent attack.

— It is estimated that an additional 195,000 silent heart attacks occur each year.

— The estimated annual incidence of heart attack (myocardial infarction,MI) is 610,000 new attacks and 325,000 recurrent attacks annually.

— The average age of a person having a first heart attack is 64.5 for men and 70.3 for women.

— Approximately 34 percent of the people who experience a coronary attack in a given year will die of it, and 15 percent who experience a heart attack will die of it.

— Approximately every 34 seconds, an American will have a heart attack.

The median survival time (in years) after a first heart attack is:

— At 60 to 69 years of age, data not available for men and 7.4 for women.

— At 70 to 79 years of age, 7.4 for men and 10.4 for women.

— At 80 years of age, 2.0 for men and 6.4 for women.

Click here to learn more from the American Heart Association.