When we think of a heart attack, we usually think of that stereotypical scene in a movie where someone suddenly grabs their chest, gasps for air and falls to the floor. In reality, heart attacks don’t usually play out in that same dramatic way. Some of the signs of a heart attack are more subtle, and not all of them are fatal.
To ensure you’re protecting yourself if you or someone you love is having a heart attack, it’s important to understand the actual signs and symptoms and get routine heart screenings and checkups done. We spoke with several cardiologists to give you the lowdown on what actually happens to your body during a heart attack and what to do if you’re having one.
The start of a heart attack isn’t always obvious or dramatic. A heart attack can often begin with subtle symptoms, and with mild discomfort versus full-on pain. Symptoms vary from person to person, and they can range in intensity. You might have just a handful of symptoms or many.
The most common symptom is chest pain (angina).
“This can be described as a heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or squeezing feeling that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back,” says cardiologist Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz. “It is sometimes mistakenly thought to be indigestion or heartburn.”
Here are some other common symptoms to look out for: