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Signs & Symptoms

Life-threatening illnesses such as heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrest can come with a range of symptoms or 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

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often, people aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. These are the most common signs of a heart attack:  

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or 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. Changes in breathing may come with or without chest discomfort. 
  • Other signs. Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness are all heart attack symptoms.

Symptoms in Women

As with men, a woman's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are 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, call your doctor and explain the 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

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you'll know to call 9-1-1 right away.


F: Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
A: Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S: Speech Difficulty. Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
T: Time to call 9-1-1. If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Don't delay! Call 9-1-1 or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) so an ambulance can be dispatched. 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 No. 1 cause of death and stroke is the No. 3 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 understand 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 empowers 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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