How to Know If You're Having a Heart Attack

February 24, 2020 3:06 PM

An expert explains the difference between having a heart attack and experiencing chest pain from heart disease, along with the warning signs of each.

This post is part of a mini blog series dedicated to bringing awareness about your heart health during the American Heart Association's national #HeartMonth. Miss the other stories? Catch up on 5 Eating Tips for a Healthy HeartHow To Check Your Blood Pressure at Home10 Heart Tests Your Doctor Might Order and What They Mean and Getting Heart Healthy with a Mediterranean Diet.

Are you having a heart attack or experiencing chest pain that's related to heart disease?

"It's important to understand the difference between the two," says Eryn Smith, M.S., PA-C, a physician's assistant in Michigan Medicine's Frankel Cardiovascular Center, since they may feel similar, but a heart attack requires immediate medical attention.

"Angina, a symptom of heart disease, is when the arteries of the heart are narrowed down, but not completely closed off. This is very different than a heart attack. A heart attack is when the arteries of the heart suddenly close off and the sudden closure causes a sensation of chest pain," Smith explains.

Signs of a heart attack include:

- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that comes on quickly and won't go away with rest.

- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

(If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.)

Signs of angina include:

- Chest pain, usually present during exertion.

- Pain or discomfort subsides with rest.