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Heart Attack

When you're having a heart attack, minutes matter. Learn the signs and what to expect so you find help fast.

man in blue dress shirt with red tie clenching chest showing heart attack

Recognize the signs of a heart attack

A heart attack happens when there is a blockage in your heart. The blockage is typically made up of cholesterol or fat, which create plaque buildup in your arteries. If the plaque ruptures, it can form a clot that stops the blood from being able to pump through. Without adequate blood flow, your heart can suffer damage. 

Symptoms of a heart attack

If you experience any of the follow signs or symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room:

  • Chest pain, chest pressure or an aching sensation that spreads to your arms or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe heartburn or stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of consciousness (passing out or blacking out)

Not all people will have the same symptoms if they’re having a heart attack. Heart attacks affect men and women differently. According to the American Heart Association, women can experience: 

  • Chest pressure or squeezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Nausea and dizziness

Women are more often than men to experience more side effects of a heart attack including nausea and dizziness.

Men often experience: 

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Pain in shoulders, arms, stomach, back, neck or teeth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing or wheezing

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

If you have a medical emergency, call 911 or visit the NMC Health Medical Center Emergency Department.

Coronary Calcium Scoring

You could prevent a heart attack before it happens with a simple test. Learn if you might be a candidate for coronary calcium scoring to assess your risk of heart attack before it happens.


To find out if you are at risk for developing heart disease, talk with your doctor. He or she will able to assess whether your risk is mild, moderate or severe. 

General factors that could put you at risk for heart disease are: 

  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Being a woman who has hit menopause
  • Having a family history of heart disease or heart attack
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Having diabetes
  • Severe stress levels
  • Not exercising or eating healthy

Your doctor can talk to you about some lifestyle changes that might lower your risk for heart attack. He or she can provide a treatment plan to keep your symptoms under control and lower the effects on your body to maintain your health.

Some easy tips include: 

  • Eating healthy and limiting salt
  • Exercising regularly and staying active
  • Getting a coronary calcium screening to assess your risk for heart attack
  • Monitoring and working to reduce your cholesterol
  • Lowering your blood sugar and maintaining your diabetes

Once you’ve had a heart attack, your doctor might suggest you go through a cardiac rehab program. NMC Health offers cardiac rehabilitation. Here, you will learn healthy lifestyle changes that may help prevent another heart attack.

Some other things you can do include: 

  • Stop smoking
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise regularly
  • Lower your salt intake
  • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Take any heart medicine as directed and prescribed by your doctor

Talk with your doctor before making any changes in your diet or exercise.

Heart Attack Education Library

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