9 Heart Attack Symptoms You Should Never, Ever Ignore

Pay attention.

woman with chest pain BlurryMe / Shutterstock

With everything else going on in the world, it's as important as ever (if not even more so) to remember that heart disease is the number one cause of death not just for African-American and white women in the United States, but for people of most ethnicities when statistics by genders are combined.

While we tend to think of heart disease as an issue affecting only older adults, some forms — such as Cardiovascular disease (CVD) — may begin during childhood. Evidence of fatty deposits in heart valves — a sign of CVD that can develop into multiple serious problems later in life — has been found in children as young as in infancy.


When we are still young, the build-up of these deposits typically develops without any obvious symptoms, so identifying and managing the known risk factors from the very start of life is crucial.

In addition to possible hereditary factors, hormonal changes, fatty foods, alcohol, smoking, and variables such as anemia, a sedentary lifestyle, and traditional American dietary habits today subject our hearts to stress at an increasingly unprecedented level.


Heart Attack vs. Sudden Cardiac Arrest

The wide variety of heart and cardiovascular diseases causes a good deal of confusion.

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For example, while many of us think the terms "cardiac arrest" and "heart attack" are one and the same, they are actually quite different from one another.

According to The American Heart Association:

"A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die. The longer a person goes without treatment, the greater the damage. Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense. More often, though, symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days, or weeks before a heart attack. Unlike sudden cardiac arrest, the heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack...


"Sudden cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning. It is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs. Seconds later, a person loses consciousness and has no pulse. Death occurs within minutes if the victim does not receive treatment."

People commonly think the primary symptoms of a heart attack are pain that radiates down the left arm and a tightening of the chest. While these may indeed be signs of a heart attack, it's important to be aware that the symptoms and causes of heart attacks in women can be quite different than those experienced by men.

Because of this, women sometimes ignore flu-like heart attack symptoms when they first arise.


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When heart attack symptoms are caught early, heart attacks can be stopped before they happen, as the signs typically develop over time before it occurs.

9 Heart Attack Symptoms You Should Never Ignore 

Heart attack symptoms in men may include:

  • Chest discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or pain.
  • Discomfort or pain in other areas of the upper body, especially in one or both arms, or in your neck, jaw, back, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, or sweating, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Abdominal discomfort that may feel like heartburn

Heart attack symptoms in women may include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.

The great news is that there are ways to prevent heart disease, reverse prior heart damage, and encourage healthy cardiovascular health overall.


Six things you can do now to improve your heart health:

1. If you're a smoker, stop smoking.

2. Eat more fiber, veggies, and fruit.

3. Avoid processed and fried foods.

4. Exercise daily.

5. Lose weight if your waistline is greater than 35 inches.

6. Visit your doctor at least once a year and have your triglycerides and cholesterol checked.


If you have a family history of diabetes and heart disease, be aware that you become increasingly more vulnerable once you reach the age of 40. Make sure your physician is aware of this and any other known risk factors.

The bottom line is that we need to take our heart health seriously and prevent heart attacks before they start. Tune into your body signals when they happen, because every moment counts.

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Aria Gmitter, M.S., M.F.A., is a Senior Editor for YourTango.