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Heart attacks

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Do you know the symptoms?

We care about your health and helping you make wise care decisions. Understanding what kind of care you need is important.

Important: If you think you have a medical or psychiatric emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. Do not attempt to access emergency care through this website.

If you have an urgent symptom or you want to speak with a nurse, do not use this website. Instead, please call your local Kaiser Permanente facility.

Don't delay

If you're having a heart attack, getting medical care within an hour care can save your life — and lower the amount of heart muscle damaged!

You may be having a heart attack if you have chest discomfort or pain that:

  • lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • isn't relieved by rest or nitroglycerin
  • feels like pressure, tightness, squeezing, crushing, intense burning, or aching
  • travels to your back, shoulder, neck, jaw, teeth, arm, or wrist

You may also experience some of these symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • sweating
  • nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
  • vomiting (throwing up)
  • rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
  • a feeling that a disaster is about to happen

A man consults with his doctorThe more symptoms you experience, the more likely it is that you're having a heart attack.

Heart attack symptoms may come on slowly. They may be vague or may start and stop. If you've had a heart attack before, it may feel the same or different, and different people may have different symptoms. Men tend to feel heavy pressure in their chest, while women may feel a burning or numbness that can radiate to the back or shoulders. Because women's symtoms can differ from men's, it can be easy for women to think their symptoms aren't serious, so it's important to learn the warning signsKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites..

If you've been diagnosed with chest pain (angina), your heart attack symptoms may feel similar but be stronger or last longer. Your chest pain might not be a heart attack, but it's important to get medical help right away.

What to do if you're having a heart attack

Stop what you're doing and sit or lie down.

If you're not taking nitroglycerin or you don't have your tablets with you, call 911 for emergency services before you call anyone else. Don't drive yourself to the hospital.

If you're taking nitroglycerin and have your tablets with you, place 1 tablet under your tongue and let it dissolve. Don't chew or swallow it. If your symptoms aren't better in 3 to 5 minutes, call 911 for emergency services before you call anyone else. While you wait for the ambulance, put 1 nitroglycerin tablet under your tongue every 5 minutes until the ambulance arrives or your symptoms are better. Some medications for erectile dysfunction (ED) can interact in a dangerous way with nitroglycerin. Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to take ED medication.

If you're not allergic to aspirin and not already taking it daily, chew one adult-strength (325 mg), uncoated aspirin tablet to help prevent blood clots.

Reviewed by Eleanor Levin, MD, FACC, August 2013
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

©2013 Kaiser Permanente