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How do I know if I’m having a heart attack?

Would you know what to do in the event of a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when there is sudden loss of blood flow to your heart muscle. It can be life threatening. If you suspect you or someone else is suffering a heart attack, call 999 immediately.

Many of us also confuse a heart attack with cardiac arrest. Discover how to spot the difference, and how you could save a life with our video on how to perform CPR. 

What are the signs of a heart attack?

Although they vary from person to person, common signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort a sudden tightness or feeling of pressure in the centre of the chest. Pain levels can range from mild to severe

  • Pain in other parts of the body it can feel as if pain is travelling from your chest to your arms (although the left is more usually affected), neck, jaw, back or stomach

  • Sweatiness a cold, clammy feeling

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Indigestion, or heartburn-type pain. This is very often ignored in the hope that it will pass

  • Light-headedness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Coughing or wheezing

  • Overwhelming anxiety

  • Unusual fatigue, exceptional tiredness

Women are more likely to experience a heart attack without chest pain, so need to pay special attention to the other, ‘silent’ symptoms too. These silent symptoms include fatigue and indigestion-type pain. Women are also more likely to delay seeking medical attention and treatment.

People with diabetes may not feel the classic chest pain as they may have some nerve damage as a result of their condition. If you're concerned, seek medical advice.

If you are worried that you may be having a heart attack, call 999 immediately.

What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

Some people confuse a heart attack with cardiac arrest – however, these are not the same thing. A heart attack can come before cardiac arrest. A person who goes into cardiac arrest may experience heart attack-like symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness beforehand. With these similarities, discover how to tell the difference...

What are the signs of cardiac arrest?

Common signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest:

  • They appear not to be breathing

  • They’re not moving

  • They don’t respond to any stimulation, such as being touched or spoken to

If someone is in cardiac arrest, you should perform CPR until an ambulance arrives. Learn how to perform CPR in our video, made with the experts at Benenden Hospital

Video Transcript
Hello, my name is Leslie Higham, I'm the clinical skills facilitator at Benenden. And my role here is to teach everybody working for the organization, emergency life skills and CPR. I'm really passionate that everybody should know how to save a life. What do you do when you find somebody who's collapsed, you've got to make sure that first of all you as the rescuer, that it's safe for you to approach, then check to see if there is a response from the patient, call their name, touch them on the shoulder, establish whether or not they've actually collapsed, or whether or not they are in cardiac arrest. Once we've done that, we now need to open up the patient's airway. You now need to do a head tilt, chin back. And you're going to assess for up to 10 seconds to see if there are any signs of life. No signs of life, no movement, no breathing, we need to dial 999 now and make sure that the emergency services are on their way. They may tell you where the nearest defibrillator is, if that's so we can get somebody to go and get that. In the meantime, we need to start chest compressions. To start chest compressions, we need to put the heel of your hand in the center of the chest, lower half of the sternum pressing down five to six centimeters at a rate of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute, to the rate of 'Stayin' Alive'. You can do just hands only if you wish to hands only CPR. Otherwise, if you feel confident enough, you can attempt to do mouth to mouth to do mouth to mouth. Pinch nose, place your lips around the patient's mouth and below for one second. Allow the chest to go up and go down and then blow the second time. Now go back onto the chest and start doing another 30 chest compressions. You need to continue to do this until the emergency services arrive. If you're too tired, and you're getting worn out, then get somebody else to help you. So remember, doctors A B C, D for danger. Offer response s for shout a for airway, B for breathing, and C for compressions. Remember, everything that you do helps to save a life

Recent studies have shown that women who have cardiac arrests are more likely to die than men. This could be because they are less likely to be given CPR by a bystander, or because people assume women are less likely to experience cardiac arrest.

If you are worried that someone has gone into cardiac arrest, it is important to call 999 immediately and perform CPR until the ambulance arrives.