heart attack symptoms

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

What do you think a heart attack looks like? TV and movies lead us to believe that people clutch their chest in pain and fall to the ground. But heart attacks don’t always stick to this script – especially in women, said Lisa Freed, MD, director of Yale New Haven Hospital Women’s Heart and Vascular Program.

“Some of the symptoms women and men experience related to heart disease are similar, such as chest pain and pain radiating through the arms and neck,” Dr. Freed said. “Women, however, may experience more subtle or atypical symptoms, such as pain in your neck, back or jaw that builds over time; shortness of breath without chest pain; or the inability to perform normal jobs or tasks (called ‘vital fatigue’), which can sometimes be interpreted as depression.”

Here’s a look at some of the different heart attack symptoms in men and women.

Whether you’re a man or women, if you suspect you might be having a heart attack, call 911. Every second counts.

In women

The number one presenting symptom in women is chest pain, but women are more likely than men to have atypical and subtle symptoms during a heart attack, including:

  • Pain. While chest pain is the most common sign, you may feel pain or discomfort in your neck, back, jaw or arms.
  • Shortness of breath. You may have a hard time breathing, even when sitting down.
  • Nausea. You may vomit or feel sick to your stomach.
  • Vital fatigue. You may feel tired for days without a clear reason.
  • May also experience cold sweat or lightheadedness

In men

Men are more likely to experience the typical symptoms we associate with heart attacks, including:

  • Chest pain, pressure or tightness. You may feel like someone is squeezing or heart or like you have a large weight on your chest.
  • Shooting pain. You may also feel a pain shooting down your left arm or to your left jaw.
  • Shortness of breath. You have trouble breathing with the chest pain.
  • Cold sweat. You may break out in a cold sweat.
  • Lightheadedness. You may feel dizzy.

According to Dr. Freed, early warning symptoms of a heart attack can develop hours or days before the actual event. It may have been leading up over the preceding several days or several weeks. That’s why it’s important for women – and men – to see their doctor regularly. “Many heart attacks are preventable and it so important to be screened for risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, which can easily be controlled and treated,” she said.

“If you think you may be having any of these symptoms, call your doctor. Listen to your body and pay attention to any signs it’s giving you,” said Dr. Freed. “Do not hesitate to schedule an appointment or call 911 if you suspect something is wrong.”

Helpful resources for your heart

To find a cardiologist or surgeon, visit the Heart Month section on our website, or call 888-461-0106.

YNHH offers free blood pressure screenings at a variety of community sites. Call 203-789-3275 for a list of locations and times or for more information.

Would you like more information about keeping your heart healthy? Email [email protected] to receive one or more of our Heart-Healthy Tip Sheets. Tell us which tip sheet(s) you would like to receive:

  • 10 foods you should buy for quick, heart-healthy meals
  • 10 tips for a healthy heart
  • Risk factors for heart disease
  • Statistics on heart disease in women

What you should know about the coronavirus

The 2019 novel coronavirus continues to make the headlines, especially as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first few cases in the country. But what is the virus? And should people worry about it?

Currently, the CDC considers the risk from the virus to the American public to be very low. Investigations are underway to learn more about the disease.

Human coronaviruses are common throughout the world. The most recent coronavirus, 2019 novel coronavirus, was first identified in Wuhan, China, and is associated with mild-to-severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing that can be severe enough to cause people to seek hospital care. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold. The incubation period — the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms — is believed to be about two weeks.

So what should you do? The best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Follow the same strategies you use to prevent the flu. Wash your hands — especially after eating, going to the bathroom, and touching your face. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, rubbing the hands together and making sure that all parts of the hands — the palms as well as the back of the hands — are washed. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, avoid other people who have flu-like symptoms.

“While we have had a lot of attention being paid to coronavirus over the last few weeks, we do need to remember that there still is a lot in influenza and other respiratory viruses circulating in our Connecticut area,” said Richard Martinello, MD, medical director for Infection Prevention at Yale New Haven Health.

To date, there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses reported in the United States since the start of flu season in October 2019.

If you have questions about coronavirus or the flu, talk with your doctor or view this flu information page of the YNHHS website.

Urgent Care vs. the ER: What’s the difference?

What would you do in the following scenarios: You don’t feel 100 percent, but you power through the day only to greet the afternoon with a fever of 101 and a body that increasingly aches from head to toe. You accidentally slice your thumb while cutting a bagel and the bleeding won’t stop despite your attempts at first aid. Should you go to the hospital emergency department?

When you need care for a life-threatening condition, the emergency department is always the best place to go. You have other options, however, when the care you need is urgent, but not life-threatening – such as in the scenarios above. Urgent/walk-in care centers are popping up in our towns and cities, but most people don’t know what makes them different from emergency departments. While both provide expert medical care, emergency departments and urgent/walk-in care centers are quite different. That difference is the severity of the health conditions they treat.

When to go to the emergency department

Emergency departments are perfect for emergency situations. If you have a life-threatening condition, call 9-1-1 immediately or go directly to your local emergency department. Such conditions include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Severe bleeding
  • Loss of vision

When to go to urgent/walk-in care:

Visit an urgent care center if you experience any of the following:

  • Minor fractures
  • X-rays
  • Back pain
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Minor headaches
  • Blood work or lab services
  • Bumps, cuts and scrapes
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Earaches or sinus pain
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Sprains
  • Mild asthma
  • Minor eye injuries
  • Rashes and minor burns
  • Allergies
  • Cold or flu symptoms

You are probably thinking, “My condition isn’t life-threatening, but I need medical attention. I know they will help me at the hospital’s emergency department. Why should I go to an urgent care center?”

The benefits of using an urgent care center for non-life-threatening conditions include:

  • Shorter wait times
  • Significantly lower treatment costs
  • Convenient locations with free parking

Yale New Haven Health operates almost two dozen urgent/walk-in centers in Connecticut and New York that offer rapid care for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses that need immediate treatment. Locations include Brookfield, Derby, Fairfield, Glastonbury, Groton, Hamden, Milford, Mohegan Lake, New London, Newtown, Niantic, North Haven, Norwalk, Norwich, Ridgefield, Shelton, Somers, Southbury, Stonington, Stratford, Waterbury and West Haven in Connecticut; and Mamaroneck and Rye Brook in New York. Find one near you on our urgent/walk-in care directory and check the location hours.

Robotic surgery for heart valve repair

When Debbie, 61, learned that she needed surgery to repair her heart’s leaky mitral valve, she wanted it done easily and quickly. She specifically wanted robotic surgery, which typically means less pain, a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery. When Debbie found it was an option at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center, the only hospital in New England to offer robotic-assisted mitral valve repair, she made an appointment and met with Arnar Geirsson, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery.

Debbie also worked with a “coach,” a patient who had the procedure and helped her understand what to expect from the surgery. The operation is performed by using the DaVinci® Xi robotic system. Varied techniques are used to repair the valve and the robotic system greatly enhances repair visualization and accuracy. The surgery, which includes a 4 cm and four 8 mm incisions in the right chest, is typically three hours long and hospital stay is three to four days. Most patients are back to normal activities and work in three to four weeks, Dr. Geirsson noted.

Debbie was discharged within three days – and back at work in two weeks. “I felt like a million bucks,” she said of her experience. “I had no trouble at all. No pain. No discomfort whatsoever.”

“This procedure offers very advanced treatment of mitral valve disease using cutting-edge techniques which the patient can recover very quickly from, allowing fast return to normal activities,” said Dr. Geirsson.

Robotic-assisted surgery is one of a number of mitral valve repair procedures available through YNHH’s Heart and Vascular Center. Others include minimally invasive mitral valve surgery for patients who are not candidates for robotic surgery; mitral valve surgery with other heart procedures such as coronary artery bypass or aortic valve replacement; MitraClip®, a device that improves certain types of mitral valve leakage; and transcatheter mitral valve replacement.

Find out more about mitral valve repair and other Heart and Vascular treatments.

Scholarships available for local students

The Yale New Haven Hospital Auxiliary is offering 10 scholarships in the amount of $2,000 each to area high school students planning to pursue a career in a health-related profession. Scholarships are based on academic excellence; financial need; personal statement; and community service, including school and community activities and/or employment. Applicants must be high school seniors who are residents of one of the following towns: Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Wallingford, West Haven or Woodbridge.

Download an auxiliary scholarship application or request one by emailing [email protected] or calling 203-688-5717. 

Referrals for physicians and surgeons

YNHH provides free information about and referrals to more than 2,600 affiliated physicians 24 hours a day. Call 888-700-6543 or visit our Find a Doctor feature on the hospital website for information on physician specialties, office hours and locations as well as insurance plans accepted. YNHH physicians represent more than 70 medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties, including internal medicine/family practice, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics and psychiatry. 

Need blood work? We’re in your neighborhood

When your physician orders blood work or you need to schedule a blood test, Yale New Haven Health makes it easy with blood draw stations conveniently located in your community. No appointment is necessary and all major insurance plans are accepted.

Please note: A requisition form is required. Our blood draw stations honor requisitions from other labs.

Find a location that's convenient on this list of blood draw locations on our website.

What would you like to know?

Want to learn more about a particular health topic or service? Questions about classes and events at YNHH? We want to hear from you! Tell us what you like about Advancing Care or send suggestions for improvement or changes. Email us and let us know how we can better serve your health needs.

YNHHS patients:  Do you have MyChart?

MyChart gives Yale New Haven Health System patients secure, online, 24/7 access to portions of your electronic medical record (EMR). There you can see your medical history, most laboratory and test results, appointment information, medications, allergies, immunizations and other health information. You can schedule appointments with your doctor, request or renew prescriptions, see your billing and insurance information and send and receive secure, confidential electronic messages with your doctor’s office. Sign up by using the activation code on the after-visit summary from your doctor, request a MyChart Activation Code at your next appointment or visit the MyChart website and click “New User?”

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Help support the mission of Yale New Haven Hospital with a donation! Your contributions support vital programs, services and facilities within the hospital and help keep Yale New Haven at the forefront of innovative treatment. When you make a gift to YNHH, you are part of the advanced medicine and compassionate commitment that touch so many lives in our community.

Billing questions?

Yale New Haven Hospital offers financial counseling to patients and families. Spanish-speaking counselors are available. Additionally, evening sessions are scheduled once a month — the next two are Tuesday, Feb. 18 and Monday, March 16 from 5 - 7 pm. To make an appointment with a financial counselor, call 203-688-2046.