Chest pain was thought to be a universal symptom of heart attacks for a long time, but in reality, the symptoms vary based on several factors, including gender, age, and health profile.
Decades of research have proven that heart attack symptoms aren’t so clear-cut. Here’s the latest research on heart attack symptoms to help you better understand the various symptoms that may indicate a heart attack and determine when to seek medical care for yourself or your loved ones.
Early symptoms of a heart attack
A lot of heart damage happens in the first 2 hours following a heart attack, which means that paying attention to any early symptoms is critical. The sooner you receive help for a heart attack, the better.
According to the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, early heart attack symptoms may occur in 50 percent of all people who have heart attacks.
Early symptoms of heart attack can include the following:
- Mild pain or discomfort in your chest that may come and go, which is also called “stuttering” chest pain
- Shoulder pain
- Neck or jaw pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Feeling of “impending doom”
- Severe anxiety or confusion
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person and even from one heart attack to another. The important thing is to trust yourself. You know your body better than anyone. If something feels wrong, get emergency care right away.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men
In the general population, men suffer from heart attacks at nearly twice the rateTrusted Source that women do. Men also have heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. If you have a family history of heart disease or a history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, or other risk factors, your chances of having a heart attack are even higher.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:
- Standard chest pain/pressure that feels like “an elephant” is sitting on your chest, with a squeezing sensation, heaviness, or pressure in the chest that may come and go or remain constant and intense
- Upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
- Shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you can’t get enough air, even when you’re resting
- Dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Your symptoms may not fit this cookie-cutter description. Trust your instincts if you think something is wrong.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
In recent decades, scientists have realized that heart attack symptoms can be quite different for women than for men. While pain and squeezing sensations in the chest are still the most common symptoms in women, many frequently self-reported symptoms differ greatly from those common in men. Lack of knowledge about the differences in symptoms across genders may be one of the reasons why women generally wait longer than men to seek out care if they suspect they are having a heart attack.
Symptoms of heart attack in women include:
- Unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion or gas-like pain
- Upper back, shoulder, or throat pain
- Jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
- Pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm
- Base your decision to seek care on what feels normal and abnormal for you. If you are experiencing symptoms that feel new to you, and don’t agree with your doctor’s conclusion, get a second opinion.
Heart attack in women over 50
After menopause, which generally occurs around age 50, your risk of heart attack increases. During this period of life, your levels of the hormone estrogen drop. Estrogen is believed to help protect the health of your heart, which could explain why the average age of first heart attack is roughly 5 years older in women than in men.
There are additional symptoms of a heart attack that women over the age of 50 may experience. These symptoms include:
- Severe chest pain
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Remain aware of these symptoms and schedule regular health checkups with your doctor.
Silent heart attack symptoms
A silent heart attack is like any other heart attack, except it occurs without the usual symptoms. In other words, you may not even realize you’ve experienced a heart attack.
The American Heart Association estimates that as many asTrusted Source 170,000 Americans experience heart attacks each year without even knowing it. Though less symptomatic than a full heart attack, these events cause heart damage and increase the risk of future attacks. Silent heart attacks are more common among people with diabetes and in those who’ve had previous heart attacks.
Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack include:
- Mild discomfort in your chest, arms, or jaw that goes away after resting
- Shortness of breath and tiring easily
- Sleep disturbances and increased fatigue
- Abdominal pain or heartburn
- Skin clamminess
After having a silent heart attack, you may experience more fatigue than before or find that exercise becomes more difficult. Get regular physical exams to stay on top of your heart health. If you have cardiac risk factors or a family history of cardiac disease, talk to your doctor about getting tests done to check the condition of your heart.
By scheduling regular checkups and learning to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, you can help lower your risk of severe heart damage from a heart attack. This may increase your life expectancy and well-being.
- Cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (2018).
- Coronary heart disease. (n.d.).
- Diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. (2017).
- Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). (2017).
- Heart disease facts. (2017).
- How high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack. (2017).
- Make a commitment to your heart. (2016).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Heart disease.
- McSweeney JC, et al. (2003). Women’s early warning symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. DOI:
- Men and Heart Disease Fact Sheet [Fact sheet]. (2017).
- Mozaffarian D, et al. (2014). Heart disease and stroke statistics — 2015 update: A report from the American Heart Association. DOI:
- Physical activity and health. (2018).
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy. (n.d.).
- Risk factors. (n.d.).
- Silent ischemia and ischemic heart disease. (2016).
- What is heart disease? (2017).
- image source: https://www.emergencyphysicians.org/article/know-when-to-go/heart-attack