Many people may believe that heart attacks always involve crushing chest pain. Although chest pain can be a symptom, other more subtle symptoms can include extreme fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness.

Although severe sudden chest pain can be a symptom, there are other more subtle symptoms that a person should be aware of.

In many cases, the symptoms of a heart attack begin slowly rather than causing a feeling of sudden pain.

Learning what a heart attack feels like can help a person receive prompt treatment, which, in turn, improves outcomes.

This article discusses what a heart attack may feel like and goes over the symptoms in detail.

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Although the symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person and between males and females, there are some common warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

A person who has more symptoms is more likely to be having a heart attack. However, a heart attack can still occur with few or vague symptoms.

The symptoms of a heart attack include the following.

Chest pain or discomfort

Chest pain or discomfort that does not go away can be a symptom of a heart attack. Chest pain or discomfort from a heart attack involves pain in the center of the chest or toward the left side of the chest. It can last for longer than a few minutes, or it may come and go.

Chest pain or discomfort can feel like:

  • intense or more mild pressure
  • squeezing
  • fullness
  • pain

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in some people, chest pain can feel like heartburn or indigestion.

Learn what might cause chest pain on the left side here.

Discomfort in the upper body

A person who is having a heart attack may notice discomfort in other areas of the upper body. For example, some other areas a person may feel discomfort include:

  • one or both arms
  • the upper back
  • the shoulder
  • the jaw and teeth
  • the neck
  • the upper belly

When a person experiences pain or discomfort in these areas due to a heart attack, the pain often radiates from the chest. Females are more likely than males to experience this type of pain related to a heart attack.

Shortness of breath

A person who is having a heart attack may experience a symptom known as shortness of breath. This can occur as the only heart attack symptom or in addition to chest pain or upper body discomfort.

A person may notice being short of breath while resting or only doing light activity.

Other symptoms

In 2021, the American Heart Association (AHA) released guidelines to help doctors diagnose chest pain. The guidelines state that doctors should consider a possible diagnosis of a heart attack in people with the following symptoms alongside chest pain:

In people over 75 years of age, the AHA notes that doctors should consider diagnosing a heart attack if the chest pain accompanies symptoms such as:

Some people also report feelings of increased fatigue in the days leading up to a heart attack. Females are more likely than males to experience this symptom.

Some people do not experience chest pain at all when experiencing a heart attack.

Learn more about recognizing the signs of a heart attack here.

Heart attack symptoms generally last for longer than 10 minutes. Symptoms, especially chest pain or pressure, may also go away and come back for several hours.

The symptoms of a heart attack can vary in duration from person to person or between heart attacks in the same person.

Learn about the stages of a heart attack here.

If a person believes that they are having a heart attack, they or someone with them should call 911 immediately. The chance of surviving a heart attack increases the sooner a person receives emergency treatment.

Learn more about what to do if a person suspects that they are having a heart attack here.

Mild heart attacks and massive heart attacks differ slightly. A mild heart attack, or a non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), causes less damage than a major heart attack, or an ST-elevated myocardial infarction (STEMI).

Symptoms of an NSTEMI can be similar to those of a STEMI. They include:

  • pressure-like chest pain
  • cold sweats
  • nausea
  • pain in the neck, jaw, or arm(s)

However, some people may have difficulty identifying these symptoms, or they may not notice them at all.

In some cases, a person may have a silent heart attack. In these cases, the person has no symptoms or very mild symptoms.

A person who has a silent heart attack is more likely to experience subtle symptoms, such as:

  • indigestion
  • feeling as though they have the flu
  • fatigue
  • feeling as though they have a pulled muscle in their chest or back
  • pain only in the jaw or arm and not in the chest

Learn about the different types of heart attacks here.

A person can experience symptoms several hours, days, or even weeks before a heart attack. The symptoms can include:

  • a general feeling of being ill
  • nausea
  • extreme fatigue
  • lightheadedness

With silent heart attacks, a person may or may not feel these symptoms. If they do feel them, they may dismiss them as being a result of something else.

Learn more about silent heart attacks here.

Following a heart attack, a person may feel fatigued. The heart attack may have also damaged their heart, which can cause problems with blood circulation as well as rhythm.

The damage can also increase a person’s likelihood of developing conditions such as kidney disease or a stroke. Taking steps to manage their health can help people improve how they feel and help prevent future complications.

Learn what could happen if a heart attack does not receive treatment here.

People experience heart attacks differently. Some people may feel a sharp pain in their chest, whereas others feel some of the other symptoms — such as extreme fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness — more frequently.

Symptoms can start several hours to days before the heart attack occurs.

A person who is experiencing any of the symptoms outlined in this article needs immediate medical attention because the outlook for a heart attack depends on how soon the person receives a diagnosis and treatment.

Once a person has a heart attack, they have an increased risk of additional heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions.