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Signs & Symptoms

Life-threatening illnesses like heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrest can come with an array of symptoms or with none at all. Follow the advice below and call 911 if you or someone you know has any of the following signs.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

From the American Heart Association:

 Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening: 

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It feels like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. 
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. 
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. 
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness

Symptoms in Women

As with men, a woman's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Back or jaw pain

Don't Wait!

Learn the signs, but remember: Even if you're not sure you have the signs of a heart attack, tell a doctor about your symptoms. Fast action saves lives - maybe your own. Don't wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1.

Calling 9-1-1 is always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive - up to an hour sooner than if someone drives you to the hospital by car. EMS staff is also trained to revive a person whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. For best results, call 9-1-1 for rapid transport to the emergency room.

If you can't access the emergency medical services (EMS), have someone drive you to the hospital right away. If you're the one having symptoms, don't drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other option.

Stroke Warning Signs

From the American Stroke Association:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body 
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding 
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes 
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination 
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

If you or another person has one or more of these signs, don't delay! Call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical services (EMS) number so an ambulance can be sent for you. Also, check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared. It's very important to take immediate action. If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke. tPA is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of stroke within three hours of stroke symptom onset.  

Dial 9-1-1 Fast

Heart attack and stroke are life-and-death emergencies - every second counts. If you have, or observe in another, any of the listed symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1. Not all signs occur in every heart attack or stroke. Sometimes the signs go away and later return. If any signs occur, get help fast! Today heart attack and stroke victims benefit from new medications and treatments unavailable to patients in years past. For example, clot-busting drugs stop some heart attacks and strokes in progress, reducing disability and saving lives. But to be effective, these drugs must be given immediately following the onset of heart attack or stroke symptoms. So, don't delay - get help right away.  

Heart Disease Statistics

Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death and stroke is the number three cause of death in the United States. Both are a leading cause of serious disability. That's why it's important to reduce your risk factors, know the warning signs, and know how to respond quickly and properly if warning signs occur.  

Cardiac arrest strikes immediately and without warning. Here are the signs: 

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness (no response to tapping on shoulders)
  • No normal breathing (the victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds)

If the signs of cardiac arrest are present, tell someone to call 9-1-1, get an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) if available and begin CPR immediately. Use the AED as soon as it arrives.

If you are alone with an adult who has the signs of cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 and get an AED (if available) before you begin CPR.

American Heart Association presents "Just a Little Heart Attack"

Starring Elizabeth Banks, "Just a Little Heart Attack,” was inspired by the real-life stories of women who have been affected by heart disease. This short film provides a powerful wake-up call to women across America to understand their risk for heart disease and empower them to put their health first.

The entertaining, yet poignant video delivers an invaluable message about the possible consequences for women who ignore their risk of heart disease.

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