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Facts About Heart Attacks

Back to 2001 Curriculum. 

IF YOU THINK YOU'RE HAVING A HEART ATTACK RIGHT NOW, CALL YOUR EMERGENCY MEDICAL SYSTEM IMMEDIATELY.  

The American Heart Association says the body likely will have one or more of these symptoms:

Most common or "classic" warning signals of a heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

Less common warning signs of heart attack:

  • Atypical chest pain, stomach or abdominal pain.
  • Nausea or dizziness (without chest pain).
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing (without chest pain).
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue.
  • Palpitations, cold sweat or paleness.
  • Not all these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and return. If some occur, get help fast.

IF YOU NOTICE ONE OR MORE OF THESE SIGNS IN ANOTHER PERSON, DON'T WAIT. CALL YOUR EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES SO THE PERSON CAN GET TO A HOSPITAL RIGHT AWAY!  

How do I know if a heart attack has occurred?

A physician who's studied the results of several tests must make the actual diagnosis of a heart attack. The doctor will:

  • Review the patient's complete medical history.
  • Give a physical examination.
  • Use an electrocardiogram (E.K.G.) to discover any abnormalities caused by damage to the heart.
  • Sometimes use a blood test to detect abnormal levels of certain enzymes in the bloodstream.

Blood tests confirm (or refute) suspicions raised in the early stages of evaluation that may occur in an emergency room, intensive care unit or urgent care setting. These tests are sometimes called heart damage markers or cardiac enzymes.

*Information gathered from the American Heart Association.