Signs and symptoms of a heart attack

A heart attack occurs when blood is unable to flow through your heart. This starves the heart of oxygen and kills cells in the heart muscle, causing permanent damage. That’s why it’s important to detect a heart attack early.

Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack vary significantly from person to person. Some people may experience pain in their neck and shoulder, and others will become nauseous and light-headed. Knowing all the different signs of a heart attack will help you know what to look for, and take quick action if you think you, or someone near you is experiencing a heart attack.

Watch this short video with Dr. Craig Ainsworth, director of the Cardiac Care Unit at Hamilton General Hospital, to learn the signs of a heart attack, and what to do if they strike.


Signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort such as pressure, squeezing, fullness, pain, burning or heaviness
  • Upper body discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness
  •  Sweating
  • Shortness of breath

If these symptoms are serious and last for more than a few minutes without getting better, it’s important to get help immediately. Follow these steps if you think you, or someone near you is having a heart attack:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Stop all activity and sit or lie down
  3. If you have nitroglycerin take your prescribed dose
  4. Take Aspirin. Chew and swallow one 325mg or two 81mg tablets
  5. Rest and wait. Stay calm and wait for help to arrive

Some people are more prone to heart attack than others, depending on age and other factors that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. If you know you’re at risk, have a list of your medications by the phone so you’re able to share it with paramedics in case of an emergency.