A “mini” heart attack, or non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), feels similar to a heart attack. Symptoms can include pressure-like pain in the chest, radiating pain, and more. The condition is a medical emergency.

In a mini heart attack, or NSTEMI, there is only a partial blockage in the artery. This means the heart may have less damage than when the blockage is complete. The prognosis is often better than other types of heart attack, but it is still serious.

While the term “mini heart attack” may sound as though it is less severe than other types of heart attack, this condition is still a medical emergency. Therefore, anyone experiencing heart attack symptoms should seek emergency medical attention.

The symptoms of different heart attack types are similar, so doctors use EKGs and blood tests to make a definitive diagnosis.

This article describes what an NSTEMI heart attack is and what it feels like. It also looks at diagnosis, treatment, outlook, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
Medical professionals are walking down a corridor.Share on Pinterest
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Although a mini heart attack may cause less damage, it is still a medical emergency. If individuals have heart attack symptoms, they should seek emergency medical attention. However severe a heart attack is, it is always best to take a cautious approach.

Main symptoms

The symptoms of an NSTEMI heart attack may feel like a regular heart attack. They can include:

  • pressure-like pain in the chest that lasts more than 10 minutes
  • pain that radiates to either arm, neck, or jaw
  • fainting
  • fatigue
  • sweating

Atypical symptoms

People may also experience sudden shortness of breath with no other symptoms. Additionally, atypical symptoms may occur in:

  • people assigned female at birth
  • people over 75 years
  • people with conditions such as diabetes, dementia, and renal insufficiency

These symptoms may include:

Females are more likely than males to also experience atypical symptoms such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting
  • nausea

Vs. STEMI heart attacks

An extensive 2019 review of nearly 22,000 individuals noted that the symptoms of NSTEMI and ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) heart attacks were similar.

However, the proportion of individuals experiencing chest pain, sweating, radiating pain, and nausea was lower in NSTEMI than in STEMI heart attacks.

Conversely, the proportion of shortness of breath and heart palpitations was higher in NSTEMI than in STEMI heart attacks.

Learn more about what a heart attack feels like.

A mini heart attack, or NSTEMI, is a medical emergency. If a person experiences symptoms of a mini heart attack, it is important to seek immediate medical help.

An individual’s outlook depends on the heart attack severity, how well they respond to treatment, and their general health.

Seeking immediate treatment for a suspected NSTEMI may help to improve a person’s outlook.

If a person suspects they are experiencing a mini heart attack, they should seek immediate medical help. An NSTEMI is serious, so urgent medical care is essential.

A person may wish to contact a doctor if they have concerns about factors that may increase the risk of NSTEMI. These can include:

The doctor can advise on steps a person can take to reduce their risk of a heart attack.

An NSTEMI requires immediate treatment. The treatment doctors recommend for an NSTEMI can depend on the extent of blockage of the coronary arteries.

Doctors will typically administer aspirin in the first instance to prevent blood clotting. They may also administer nitroglycerin under the tongue to improve the blood flow to the heart by opening the arteries.

Once tests confirm an individual has an NSTEMI heart attack, doctors usually begin blood thinning therapies, such as heparin. Other common medications include:

Doctors may also use a procedure called angioplasty. This involves inserting a balloon into the artery and inflating it to open up the blockage. They may then insert a stent into the artery to keep it open.

Here are some frequently asked questions about mini heart attacks.

Can a mini heart attack go away?

It is important to seek immediate medical help if a person suspects they are experiencing a mini heart attack. It is a medical emergency and requires treatment, even if symptoms appear to go away.

Can you live a long life after a minor heart attack?

According to the American Heart Foundation, many people live productive lives after a first heart attack. How long a person lives will depend on many factors such as their age and overall health. There is also the risk of a second heart attack.

A person’s doctor will be able to advise on steps the individual can take and any treatments they require to help reduce the risk of recurrence.

What happens after a mild heart attack?

After a person experiences a mild heart attack, they will require certain treatments within 24 hours after first experiencing symptoms. This is to help manage risks of recurrence immediately after the heart attack.

Once they leave the hospital, a person may need to make lifestyle changes to help prevent another heart attack. Their doctor will also advise on any medications they may need to take longer term.

Learn about medications a person might need to take after a heart attack.

A mini heart attack, or NSTEMI, is a type of heart attack that occurs when there is only partial blockage to the artery. It is still a serious condition that requires immediate medical treatment.

Symptoms of an NSTEMI can be similar to those of other types of heart attack. They can include pressure-like pain in the chest, pain that radiates to other parts of the body, fainting, fatigue, and sweating.

Atypical symptoms can include stabbing pain, indigestion, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. People who are more likely to experience atypical symptoms include females, people over the age of 75 years, and those with conditions such as diabetes, renal insufficiency, and dementia.

A person should seek immediate medical help if they experience symptoms of a mini heart attack. If a person has concerns about the factors that increase the likelihood of a heart attack, their doctor can provide them with tips on ways to reduce the risk.