Symptoms of a Heart Attack Aren’t Standard, So Get to Know All of Them

There’s no one-size-fits-all look for 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 a standard set of symptoms when they have a heart attack. Up to one in three people will have more uncommon symptoms or no symptoms at all. Women, older adults, and diabetics are the most likely to have symptoms that aren't commonly associated with heart attacks. In fact, one study found that so-called “uncommon symptoms” were more prevalent in older adults.

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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, neck, stomach,or arm
  • Sudden, unexplained fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath during activities that didn't previously cause breathing difficulty 
  • Vague chest pain that may feel more like indigestion 
  • A squeezing or tightness in the chest (could be mistaken as "bra tightness" in women), rather than the typical sudden, sharp pain 

heart attack warning signs

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

People with a history of heart disease are most likely to have a heart attack. 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.

When should I see my doctor?

The key is to see your doctor if you think something is wrong. If you have any doubt whether you're having symptoms fo a heart attack, it's generally recommended you seek medical attention immediately. Waiting can spell the difference between life and death and it's always bettter to be safe than sorry. 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.

How can I prevent a future heart attack?

The key to avoiding a heart attack is prevention. Visit your physician at least annually, who can check your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Becoming familiar with your numbers will allow you to know your risk. Also, it's important to take your heart health seriously.

Here are a few effective ways to take charge of your health:

  • Eat a diet high in vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes a day.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Keep your alcohol consumption to one drink 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.

Related:

Quiz: Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

The Genetic Condition Behind Bob Harper’s Heart Attack

The Gender Divide in Heart Disease