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Heart Attack and Acute Coronary Syndrome

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Signs and Symptoms

With both a heart attack and other forms of acute coronary syndrome (ACS), a person may experience a sudden onset of chest pain, often radiating into the jaw, arm or shoulder, that typically is not relieved by rest. This pain may be a first occurrence or a worsening of reoccurring pain.

In someone who has had episodes of chest pain due to an inadequate blood supply through narrowed arteries (unstable angina), these symptoms may be more severe or longer-lasting than was previously experienced when the person developed chest pain on exertion (stable angina).

Note that not everyone will experience chest pain, and women are more likely than men to have signs and symptoms that are not typical. In women, symptoms are often less dramatic and more likely to be misinterpreted as due to another cause than in men. Some heart attacks are sudden while other heart attacks start slowly. The pain and other symptoms may come and go.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain, discomfort and/or pressure (most common)
  • Rapid heart rate, skipping a beat
  • Nausea and vomiting or stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Sudden onset of shortness of breath 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Change in blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Pain on other places such as the back, one or both arms, jaw or neck

In some cases, some of these symptoms may occur without chest pain (particularly in older individuals and in those with diabetes).

For more information on warning signs and the differences between those that occur in men and women, visit the links listed under Related Pages, Elsewhere on the Web. If someone has one or more of these symptoms, the person should not ignore them and should call 911 or the local emergency number. If medical help is not received promptly, irreversible damage to the heart muscle may occur.

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