Skip to content

Most People Who Have a Heart Attack Feel This Symptom First

Learn to listen to your heart.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A heart attack can be very scary—but knowing the signs can make all the difference. "A heart attack is a frightening event, and you probably don't want to think about it," says Yuri Deychak, MD. "But, if you learn the signs of a heart attack and what steps to take, you can save a life – maybe your own." Here are the most common symptoms of heart attack, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Chest Pain

Asian young woman feeling discomfort as suffering from heartburn holding chest with closed eyes and sitting with folded legs on couch at home.

Chest pain is a common sign of heart attack, doctors say. "Chest pain can result from blocked or reduced blood flow to the heart – better known as a heart attack. It can also be a warning sign that a heart attack may occur," says Jeffrey W Chambers, MD, FACC. "Heart attack pain may start with chest pressure that comes and goes, sometimes with exertion. If the pain becomes continuous, seek medical attention immediately and consider calling 911. If you have chest pain constantly  for several days, weeks or months, it is unlikely to be caused by a heart attack."



Woman lying at bed.

Feeling unusually tired could be another sign of heart attack, especially when occurring with chest pain. "About 2 out of every 3 people who have heart attacks have chest pain, shortness of breath or feel tired a few days or weeks before the attack," says Cedars Sinai. "A person who has angina (temporary chest pain) may find that it happens more often after less and less physical activity. A change in the pattern of angina should be taken seriously."


Shortness of Breath

Woman feeling headache and touching her head.

Shortness of breath could be a sign of heart attack, experts say. "Shortness of breath otten comes along with chest discomfort," says Dr. Deychak. "But it also can occur before chest discomfort."


Body Pain

"During a heart attack, a person may feel pain in the middle of the chest that can spread to the back, jaw or arms," says Cedars-Sinai. "The pain may also be felt in all of these places and not the chest. Sometime the pain is felt in the stomach area, where it may be taken for indigestion. The pain is like that of angina but usually more severe, longer lasting and does not get better by resting or taking a nitroglycerin pill."



Young vomiting woman near sink in bathroom

Unexplained nausea and vomiting should never be ignored, experts say. "Waking up in a cold sweat, feeling nauseated, and vomiting may be symptoms of the flu, but they can also be signs of a silent heart attack," says Penn Medicine. "You may know what the flu feels like because you've had one before, but when your gut is telling you that these flu-like symptoms are something more serious, listen. Don't chalk these symptoms up to the flu, stress, or simply feeling under the weather — they may be much more serious than that."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan