A heart attack is the sudden interruption of blood flow within the heart. The blockage can happen when a piece of plaque breaks loose from the wall of a blood vessel and becomes lodged in one of the heart's arteries. Called acute myocardial infarction (AMI), a heart attack can also occur when arteries become inflamed or close off because of plaque buildup.

Oxygen-rich blood no longer flows past the blockage, choking off the tissue beyond the blockage. Without rapid treatment, a heart attack can lead to permanent heart damage and even death.


The most common symptom of coronary artery disease, which is the precursor to a heart attack, or AMI, is chest pain. Also called angina, chest pain is chest discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or a squeezing sensation in the chest area. It is sometimes confused with indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest but may also radiate down the left shoulder and left arm and may be felt in the neck, back or jaw.

Unlike sudden cardiac arrest, a heart attack may come on slowly or have vague symptoms. If you have angina or any chest discomfort or other symptoms mentioned above that last for more than 5 minutes, call 911 immediately. The symptoms could be signs of a heart attack. Without immediate treatment, heart muscle can die, leading to permanent disability and sometimes death.

Other common heart-attack symptoms:

  • Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating

  • Impending sense of doom

  • Fainting

  • Nausea and vomiting
Learn more about heart attacks and women's health

Women often have different heart attack symptoms. Those may include:

  • Abdominal pain or heartburn

  • Clammy skin

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

  • Unusual or unexplained fatigue

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