A heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a coronary artery — a blood vessel that feeds blood to a part of the heart muscle. Interrupted blood flow to your heart can damage or destroy a part of the heart muscle.
Years ago, a heart attack was often fatal. Thanks to better awareness of heart attack signs and symptoms and improved treatments, most people who have a heart attack now survive.
Your overall lifestyle — what you eat, how often you exercise and the way you deal with stress — plays a role in your recovery from a heart attack. In addition, a healthy lifestyle can help you prevent a first or subsequent heart attack by controlling risk factors that contribute to the narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply blood to your heart.
Common signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
- Pain extending beyond your chest to your shoulder, arm, back, or even to your teeth and jaw
- Increasing episodes of chest pain
- Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Impending sense of doom
- Nausea and vomiting
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women may be different or less noticeable than heart attack symptoms in men. In addition to the symptoms above, heart attack symptoms in women can include:
- Abdominal pain or "heartburn"
- Clammy skin
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue
Not all people who have heart attacks experience the same ones or experience them to the same degree. Many heart attacks aren't as dramatic as the ones you've seen on TV. Some people have no symptoms at all. Still, the more signs and symptoms you have, the greater the likelihood that you may be having a heart attack.
A heart attack can occur anytime — at work or play, while you're resting, or while you're in motion. Some heart attacks strike suddenly, but many people who experience a heart attack have warning signs and symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. The earliest predictor of an attack may be recurrent chest pain (angina) that's triggered by exertion and relieved by rest. Angina is caused by temporary, insufficient blood flow to the heart, also known as "cardiac ischemia."