Early Warning Signs of a Heart Attack or Stroke

Updated:Oct 3,2014

Dial 9-1-1 Fast !
Heart attack is a life-and-death emergency -- every second counts. If you see or have any of the listed symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Not all these signs occur in every heart attack. Sometimes they go away and return. If some occur, get help fast! Today heart attack victims can benefit from new medications and treatments unavailable to patients in years past. But to be effective, these drugs must be given quickly after heart attack symptoms first appear. So again, don't delay - call 9-1-1!


Coronary heart disease is America's  No. 1 killer. That's why it's so important to reduce your risk factors, know the warning signs, and know how to respond quickly and properly if they occur.

Heart Attack Warning Signs
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense -- the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often the people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening.

  • Chest Discomfort
    Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.     
  • Discomfort in Other Areas of the Upper Body 
    Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.     
  • Shortness of Breath 
    This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort. But it can occur before the chest discomfort.     
  • Other Signs
    These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Stroke Warning Signs:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body    
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding    
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes    
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination    
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
If you or someone you're with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don't wait. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive -- up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. The staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. You'll also get treated faster in the hospital if you come by ambulance.

Coronary heart disease is the  No. 1 single cause of death in the United States. Knowledge of the warning signs for these events can help you deal with them effectively.