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Published on January 20, 2017

How to Tell If You Might Be Having a Heart Attack

Do you know the warning signs of a heart attack? These eight questions will help you understand the signs.

Having a Heart Attack

No one wants to be accused of overreacting, but the warning signs of a heart attack are nothing to take lightly. How can you tell if you’re having a heart attack? Sometimes, only a doctor can tell for sure. But if your answer to most of the following questions is yes, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get checked out immediately. Start by calling 911.

• Are you having discomfort in the middle of your chest?

• Are you having any of the following chest discomfort symptoms: fullness, burning, aching, tightness or similar symptoms within your chest?

• Do these chest discomfort symptoms come and go?

• Do these chest discomfort symptoms get worse with activity but then disappear when you rest?

• Are you reluctant to tell anyone about these symptoms?

• Are you reluctant to call 911 because you think your mild symptoms do not warrant immediate attention?

• Do you have any of these other associated symptoms: discomfort that goes from your chest to your left arm or your jaw; clammy perspiration; shortness of breath; nausea; or dizziness?

• If you carry nitroglycerin with you, does it seem to take away the discomfort within five minutes?

Symptom checker

Warning Signs in Women

Only about 60 percent of women experience chest pain or discomfort with a heart attack. These are the symptoms women are more likely to experience:

• shortness of breath

• sudden back, arm or jaw pain

• nausea

• vomiting

• weakness

• lightheadedness

• profuse sweating

• unusual tiredness

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911.

Why You Should Call 911

“Time and communication are critical when a heart attack happens,” says Jayadeep Varanasi, MD, a member of Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare. “That’s why calling 911 is so important. Cardiologists work closely with emergency medical staff (EMS) to immediately recognize the warning signs of a heart attack and quickly make a diagnosis before you even get to the hospital. EMS workers then alert the emergency room, which pulls together a cardiovascular team so all treatment options are available as soon as you arrive.”