How to Know If You Might Be Having a Heart Attack

Find out how you can recognize the uncommon symptoms that might indicate you’re having a heart attack.

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How to Spot a Heart Attack (5:15)

If asked what the symptoms of a heart attack are, you’d probably rattle off chest pain, sweating and weakness. Unfortunately, not everyone has those symptoms when they have a heart attack. Up to one in three people will have more uncommon symptoms or no symptoms at all, with women, older adults and diabetics being the most common to have problems they don’t usually associate with heart attacks. In fact, one study found that so-called “uncommon symptoms” were more common in older adults than the ones we typically think of.

What are some of the uncommon symptoms?

Here are a few symptoms that may show up in someone who’s having a heart attack.

Pain in the jaw, back, stomach or arm

Sudden, unexplained fatigue

Confusion

Shortness of breath doing things that didn’t previous cause breathing difficulty

Vague chest pain that may feel more like indigestion

A squeezing or tightness in the chest, rather than the typical sudden, sharp pain

How do I know if it’s really a heart attack?

It’s important to recognize that you shouldn’t run to the doctor every time you have indigestion. These symptoms are seen in the context of someone who’s likely to be at risk of heart disease. Smoking, not getting enough exercise, having high blood pressure or diabetes and being overweight can all increase a person’s risk for heart disease. Pain that feels like indigestion in a person who’s completely healthy is likely indigestion. But new indigestion pain in someone who has a lot of risk factors for heart disease could be a heart attack.

The key is to see your doctor if you think something is wrong. Since your symptoms might not be typical, it will take further testing at the doctor’s office to determine what exactly is going on.

When should I see my doctor?

As a rule of thumb, you should go see your doctor when something seems to be wrong with your health. Too often women write off their symptoms as no big deal only to find out later that they were actually more serious than they realized. If you notice that your health has taken a sudden turn for the worse, see someone about it. You know your body better than anyone else. If you think something is wrong, chances are good there is. It doesn’t hurt to get checked out. If you think you’re having a heart attack, you should call 911 and try to remain calm until help arrives.

How can I prevent a future heart attack?

There are plenty of steps you can take to improve your heart health. Here are a few:

Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

Exercise for at least 20 minutes a day.

Quit smoking.

Keep your alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day.

Lose weight (even a few pounds can help).

Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked at least once a year and track them on your heart health wallet card.

Take medications for any chronic conditions you might have regularly as directed.