A heart attack (myocardial infarction, or MI) occurs when one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries) becomes blocked, causing damage to the part of the heart that receives blood from that artery. The longer an artery is blocked, the greater the size of the heart attack and the more damage that can occur.
According to the American Heart Association, men and women frequently have different symptoms. A heart attack may feel very different to you than it does to someone else. You might be able to hold a conversation or finish a meal. Even if you don’t have a sudden pain in your chest or feel like you’re about to pass out, you’ll probably be aware that something is wrong (another symptom).
Heart Attack Symptoms: Men
Although the classic symptom of chest pain is not present in every heart attack, it is the most common among men. The pain is frequently described as a squeezing or pressing sensation. Chest pain is usually felt in the center of the chest, but it can also be felt from armpit to armpit.
Other common heart attack symptoms for men include:
- Shortness of breath, which can occur when sitting still or moving around, can occur before any other symptoms
- Back pain, often moving up to the neck
- Arm pain, typically in the left arm, but can be in either or both arms
- Jaw pain that feels like a bad toothache at times
- Sudden cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Heart Attack Symptoms: Women
Chest pain or tightness is the most common symptom of a heart attack in women. Pain in the upper abdomen is also common in women. Women are also more likely than men to experience unusual symptoms such as:
- Fatigue may appear several days before other symptoms, giving the impression that you have the flu rather than a heart attack
- Upper back pain that may feel like burning, tingling, or pressure
- Neck and jaw pain — often without any chest pain
- Pain, tingling, or discomfort in either or both arms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain, that can occur unexpectedly (as though you just finished running without having been moving at all)
What is a Mini Heart Attack?
A mini heart attack, also known as a mild heart attack or a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), occurs when the artery is only partially blocked, the symptoms do not last as long as a regular heart attack, and the heart may sustain only minor damage.
A heart attack, even if it is minor, is a medical emergency. If you have any of the symptoms of a heart attack, dial 9-1-1 immediately and go to the emergency department of a hospital. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
The symptoms of a mini heart attack are similar to those of a regular heart attack, but they last for a shorter period of time and include:
- Pain, pressure, tightness, or discomfort in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Belching (burping)
- Cold, clammy skin
- Fast or uneven heartbeat
In addition to the above symptoms, women may also experience:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
Heart attacks occur when an artery supplying blood to the heart becomes blocked, causing damage to the part of the heart that normally receives blood from that artery.
This blockage is typically caused by a condition known as coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. Plaques (fatty deposits) form on the walls of the coronary arteries, which are the arteries that supply the heart, in coronary heart disease. These plaques can rupture and form blood clots, obstructing the artery and preventing blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle.
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
The best way to prevent a mini heart attack is with lifestyle modifications that can prevent heart disease, such as:
- Heart healthy diet
- Not smoking
- Regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Practice stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga
- Keep cholesterol in check
- Manage high blood pressure
- Manage diabetes
Calling 911 or having someone drive you to the emergency room for a suspected heart attack may appear to be a drastic step, especially if you’re unsure what’s going on. However, it is preferable to be evaluated and given a clean bill of health than to risk the greater harm from an untreated heart attack.
Symptoms that resemble a heart attack may also indicate another condition. Anxiety attacks, for example, can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and sweating. Even if an anxiety attack is not life-threatening, it should be evaluated.
You should not disregard symptoms that resemble a heart attack. Those who have had a heart attack frequently describe a vague sense of uneasiness or even doom that they are unable to explain. Trust your instincts and pay attention to all of your body’s cues.