Heart attack signs

heart attackA heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when the flow of the blood to the heart is blocked. Most often this is caused by a blockage or buildup of fat, cholesterol or othersubstances, which form a plaque in the arteries that deliver blood to the heart. If a plaque breaks away and forms a clot this can interrupt blood flow to the heart and cause damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Upper body discomfort (including neck, jaw, shoulder, arms and back)
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or feeling dizzy

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack may vary or be different for men and women.

If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. Emergency personnel can start treatment enroute to your nearest hospital.
  • Stop all activity. Sit or lie down, in whatever position is most comfortable.
  • Take your nitroglycerine. If you take nitroglycerin, take your normal dosage.
  • Take Aspirin. Chew and swallow an aspirin (ASA), if you are not allergic or intolerant (either one 325 mg tablet or two 81 mg tablets).
  • Rest and wait. Stay calm while waiting for help to arrive.
  • Keep a list of your medications in your wallet and by the phone. Emergency personnel will want this information.

If someone experiences a heart attack, they may exhibit the signs listed below:

  • Sudden collapse
  • Unresponsive to touch or sound
  • Not breathing or making gasping sounds

What you should do during a cardiac arrest:

  • Call 911 and shout out for a defibrillator.
  • Start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) immediately.
  • Use a defibrillator as soon as it arrives.
  • Don’t hesitate. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.


Heart disease can be prevented through healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, reducing substance use and enhancing mental health.

Learn more about healthy lifestyles, prevention and education on the Health Information website at hi.easternhealth.ca.

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Last updated: 2024-01-31