A heart attack is also known as acute myocardial infarction, or AMI. It's an urgent message from your heart that it’s starved for oxygen. When a clot blocks a blood vessel feeding the heart (coronary artery), oxygen-rich blood can’t reach a part or all of your heart. Then tissues of the heart muscle start to die. This causes symptoms of a heart attack. The sooner you get to the hospital, the sooner treatment can start to help save your life and your heart.
Don’t be afraid to call 911, even if you’re not sure you are having a heart attack. If you don’t know the cause of your symptoms, assume it’s a heart attack. Play it safe and get medical help. Don't drive yourself to the emergency department.
If you think someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 instead of driving the person to the ER. The 911 dispatcher may tell you to give the person aspirin while waiting for help to arrive. If the dispatcher doesn’t tell you to do this, don’t give the person aspirin. Aspirin can be dangerous under certain circumstances.
Warning signs of a heart attack
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, burning, fullness, tightness, or pain. It is often described as something heavy sitting on your chest.
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.
Note for women. Like men, women most commonly have chest pain or discomfort as a heart attack symptom. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting, back pain, or jaw pain.
Older people may also have atypical symptoms. The symptoms include loss of consciousness (syncope), weakness, or confusion (delirium). These symptoms should be looked at right away. Ignoring them can lead to critical illness or death.
If you have diabetes, high blood sugar can damage nerves in your body over time. This may keep you from feeling pain caused by a heart problem, leading to a “silent” heart problem. If you don’t feel symptoms, you are less able to get treatment right away. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to lower your risk for silent heart problems.
People who have had one heart attack are at risk for having another heart attack. Your provider may prescribe medicine such as nitroglycerin to take for chest pain. You may also need medicine to lower your heart rate and blood pressure to prevent angina and another heart attack. Remember to take any medicines your provider has given as directed. Don't stop these medicines without speaking with him or her first.