Get to know the signs & symptoms of a heart attack, & what to do if you suspect you or someone you’re with is having a heart attack

The early signs of a heart attack can vary from person to person, and don’t always feel severe, which means they can be easy to dismiss.

That’s why it’s important to get to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, including the lesser-known early signs, and what to do if you spot them.  

Take a look at our guide to the key heart attack signs, symptoms and advice you need to be aware of.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when there’s a sudden restriction in the heart’s blood supply. Heart attacks are most commonly caused by a blood clot. A lack of blood to the heart can cause serious complications and could be life threatening.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Symptoms of heart attack can vary from person to person. Early symptoms can sometimes feel mild but it’s important to never dismiss them. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 999 immediately.

The most common early sign of a heart attack is a squeezing or tightening across the chest along with a general sense of unease.

Other early signs of a heart attack are:

• Chest pain

• A sensation of pressure

• Heaviness, tightness or squeezing across the chest

• A feeling of unease, like a panic attack.

Other symptoms of a heart attack may include:

• Pain spreading through other parts of the body, such as arms, neck or jaw

• Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

• Sweating

• Feeling or being sick

• Shortness of breath

• Coughing or wheezing

Although chest pain is one of the most well-known heart attack symptoms, some people may only experience mild pain, similar to indigestion. That’s why it’s important to act immediately, even if the pain doesn’t feel severe.

Don't miss the early signs of a heart attack. Call 999.

Signs of a heart attack in women

Despite more than 30,000 women being admitted to hospital each year due to a heart attack, the British Heart Foundation reports that women may be less likely to seek early medical help.

While chest pain is the most common heart attack sign for women and men, women are more likely to experience other symptoms like shortness of breath, feeling or being sick, or pain in the back or jaw.

The advice is the same if you have these symptoms – call 999 immediately, even if they’re only mild.

What to do if you suspect you’re having a heart attack

The earlier you can seek treatment for a suspected heart attack, the better. Even if you only have one of the symptoms, or your symptoms are only mild, it’s never too early to dial 999 and it’s never a waste of NHS time. 

If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 999 straight away and ask for an ambulance. Once you’ve done that, here’s what else you can do:

• Chew and swallow an aspirin (300mg is best) if you have some within easy reach and aren’t allergic

• Try to keep as calm as possible and rest while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive, to avoid putting strain on your heart 

How to help prevent a heart attack

There are some easy steps you can take to help keep your heart as healthy as possible and reduce the risk of having a heart attack. These include:

• Quitting smoking, if you do smoke

• Maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you’re overweight

• Exercising regularly

• Eating a varied and balanced healthy diet

• Limiting your alcohol consumption

Read our heart health article to find out more about different heart conditions and how you can help look after your heart. 

Remember, early intervention could mean an increased chance of survival, so it’s never too soon to call 999 if you think you might be having a heart attack.