Heart attack symptoms
**If you experience any of these symptoms for 10 minutes or longer it is important you call an ambulance on triple zero (000) **
The one thing all heart attacks have in common is that the sooner you receive treatment, the less damage will be done.
Heart attack symptoms vary. They are not always sudden or severe. Many start slowly with only mild pain or discomfort. Some people experience one symptom, while others experience a combination of symptoms. Symptoms are different for everyone, even for the same person who has experienced more than one heart attack.
Symptoms can include one or a combination of:
Pain, tightness, heaviness or pressure in your:
Discomfort or pain in the centre of your chest. You may feel heaviness, tightness, pressure or a crushing sensation in the centre of the chest. The discomfort may be mild and make you feel generally unwell.
People who have had a heart attack describe feeling as if they have an ‘elephant sitting on their chest’ or ‘a belt tightening around their chest.’ Chest pain may spread to other parts of the upper body.
Note: Chest pain that is a sharp and stabbing sensation is generally less associated with having a heart attack.
Discomfort or pain in your jaw. You may feel an ache or tightness in and around the lower jaw on either one or both sides. This discomfort can spread from your chest to your jaw.
Discomfort, pain, heaviness or uselessness in one or both arms. People who have had a heart attack describe feelings of discomfort, numbness or tingling in their arm(s). This discomfort may spread from your chest to your arm(s).
Discomfort or pain in your neck. People who have had a heart attack describe a general discomfort in their neck, or a choking or burning feeling in their throat. This discomfort may spread from your chest or shoulders to your neck.
Discomfort or pain in and around one or both of your shoulders. People who have had a heart attack describe feeling a general ache, heaviness or pressure which spreads from their chest to their shoulder(s).
Discomfort or pain in your back. People who have had a heart attack describe feeling a dull ache in between their shoulder blades. This discomfort can spread from your chest to your back.
Other symptoms may include:
Shortness of breath.
Symptoms can begin slowly and become more severe, or begin severe and progress to get worse. The pain can begin in one part of your body and spread to other parts. Some people do not experience any pain1.
What should you do?
The Heart Foundation recommends in the event of a suspected heart attack:
1. Stop - Immediately stop what you are doing and rest.
2. Talk - If you are with someone, tell them what you are feeling.
If any of your symptoms:
Get worse quickly.
Have lasted 10 minutes.
3. Call - Triple Zero (000)* now!
Ask for an ambulance. Don’t hang up. Wait for advice from the operator.
If calling Triple Zero (000) does not work on your mobile phone, try 112.
Why is a heart attack an emergency?
With a heart attack, every minute counts. Too many people lose their lives because they take too long to call Triple Zero (000). Getting to hospital quickly can reduce the damage to your heart muscle and increase your chance of survival. In hospital, staff will give you treatments that help to reduce this damage.
Why call Triple Zero (000)?
The trained operator will decide if you need an ambulance.
You’ll receive treatment as soon as you phone.
You’ll receive advice on what to do while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
Ambulance paramedics are trained to use special lifesaving equipment and to start early treatments for a heart attack inside the ambulance.
An ambulance is the safest and fastest way to get you to hospital.
Attempting to get to hospital quickly in a private vehicle can be dangerous for the occupants of your vehicle and other road users.
It is always better to call Triple Zero (000) and find out it’s not a heart attack than to wait until it is too late.2
What is angina?
Angina presents when there is temporary insufficient blood flow and oxygen to the muscle of the heart. Similar to a heart attack, angina is caused by the narrowing of coronary arteries which reduce the blood supply to the heart muscle. Angina does not occur all of the time, because the heart muscle still receives sufficient blood supply, it is only a reduced supply. Angina usually occurs during times of stress or physical activity (when there is an increased demand for oxygen by the cardiac muscle) and typically resolves within a few minutes with rest or with medications which vasodilate the coronary arteries i.e. GTN Angina can affect people at a variety of times, after a large meal, physical activity, during sleep, in cold weather, in the morning or even while at rest.
Unlike a heart attack, angina does not damage the heart muscle but having angina can increase the risk of a heart attack. It is important that angina is treated otherwise it can hinder daily activities.
Angina symptoms can include:
Tight, squeezing, gripping pain or discomfort.
Pain in the centre of your chest, spreading to shoulders, back, neck, jaw, and/or arms.
No pain but unpleasant feeling in chest.
Shortness of breath.
Pain may be accompanied by breathlessness and sweating.
Pressure or a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Sometimes, radiating pain in the upper back and shoulders.
Signs and symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, sweating, light-headedness, or weakness also may occur.
Pain and discomfort are the main symptoms of angina and is described as pressure, squeezing, burning, or tightness in the chest. The pain may feel like indigestion. Some people say that angina pain is hard to describe or they can't tell exactly where the pain is coming from1.
If you are experiencing angina, stop what you are doing and allow your heart muscle to rest. Symptoms of angina are typically relieved by rest and use of angina medications. If resting does not relieve the angina episode, take your angina medication and wait 5 minutes. Ensure you are seated or lying flat before administering your medication as it can make you dizzy.
Spray one spray under the tongue.
Tablet place medication under the tongue, do not swallow. Once the angina symptoms have resolved, remove the remaining tablet from your mouth
If the angina symptoms remain after rest and taking a dose of medication, repeat dose of medication and wait another 5 minutes.
If angina symptoms gets worse or more severe, or still remain after 10 minutes of rest and medication treatment, symptoms it is important you call an ambulance on triple zero (000).
If your symptoms are not resolved within 10 minutes of treatment by angina medication or rest or if symptoms become more severe you may be having a heart attack and will need to call triple zero (000) immediately to seek assistance from an ambulance.
Speak to your doctor if your angina:
Becomes more severe.
Becomes more frequent.
Last for longer periods of time.
No longer is relieved by medications.
Comes on with little or no exertion.
Occurs at night or at rest3.
For more information on heart attacks go to:
1. National Heart Foundation of Australia 2013, Learn the warning signs, viewed 19 May 2013
2. National Heart Foundation of Australia 2013, Recognising your heart attack, viewed 21 May 2013
3. National Heart Foundation of Australia 2013, Cardiovascular conditions, viewed 21 May 2013