Mayo Clinic Health Library

Heart attack

Updated: 02-03-2012

Someone having a heart attack may experience any or all of the following:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness or squeezing pain in the center of the chest
  • Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen
  • Discomfort or pain spreading beyond the chest to the shoulders, neck, jaw, teeth, or one or both arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

A heart attack generally causes chest pain for more than 15 minutes, but it can also have no symptoms at all. Many people who experience a heart attack have warning signs hours, days or weeks in advance.

If you or someone else may be having a heart attack

  • Call 911 or your local emergency medical assistance number. Don't tough out the symptoms of a heart attack for more than five minutes. If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have a neighbor or a friend drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort, if there are absolutely no other options, and realize that it places you and others at risk when you drive under these circumstances.
  • Chew and swallow an aspirin, unless you're allergic to aspirin or have been told by your doctor never to take aspirin. But seek emergency help first, such as calling 911.
  • Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. If you think you're having a heart attack and your doctor has previously prescribed nitroglycerin for you, take it as directed. Do not take anyone else's nitroglycerin, because that could put you in more danger.
  • Begin CPR if the person is unconscious. If you're with a person who might be having a heart attack and he or she is unconscious, tell the 911 dispatcher or another emergency medical specialist. You may be advised to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you haven't received CPR training, doctors recommend skipping mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and performing only chest compressions (about 100 per minute). The dispatcher can instruct you in the proper procedures until help arrives.