5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

Just as no two hearts beat the same, no two heart attacks are the same, even for the same person. It is different for everyone and the warning signs someone experiences before a heart attack can vary drastically from person to person. 

Heart attacks happen when one or more of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to your heart, become blocked. This means blood and oxygen can’t reach the heart and causes damage to the heart muscle. 

Chest discomfort or pain (also known as angina) is the most common warning sign of a heart attack. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, aching, numbness, squeezing or fullness in your chest. Many people are familiar with this warning sign, as it’s the classic sign often depicted on TV or in the movies.  Sometimes people describe the pain or discomfort as “an elephant sitting on my chest”. It can spread to your arms, neck, jaw or back, lasting for several minutes or coming and going in waves. However, it is important to remember that in some people, a life-threatening heart attack can start slowly with only mild pain or discomfort. In other cases, people might not get any chest pain at all. 

Did you know there are some less obvious and less common warning signs that people might experience before a heart attack? Here are five that you might not expect:

1. Dizziness, light-headedness or feeling faint

If you suddenly become unsteady on your feet, the room starts spinning or your vision starts to fade, your body may be warning you of an impending heart attack. Tell someone right away if you are experiencing these symptoms.

2. Nausea, indigestion, or vomiting 

Indigestion, nausea, and vomiting can be symptoms of many conditions, but it is important not to dismiss them, as they can be a warning sign of a life-threatening heart attack. The best way to be sure if what you’re experiencing is critical is to seek urgent help. Medical tests can diagnose the cause of your symptoms, and if it is a heart attack, the earlier you get help, the better.

3. Shortness of breath 

Shortness of breath can be brought on by physical activity, extreme temperatures, or high altitudes. It can also be a common symptom of many other medical conditions. However, tightening in the chest, difficulty breathing or breathlessness with or without chest discomfort can occasionally be a warning sign for a heart attack. If you are experiencing shortness of breath which is not normal for you, it’s best to seek medical help right away.

4. Sweating or a cold sweat 

Sweating, or breaking out in a cold sweat – that is, a sudden chill in your body, regardless of temperature in the environment – can also be warning signs of a heart attack. 

5. No warning signs at all

Finally, it is entirely possible to experience a ‘silent heart attack’, where you might not have any symptoms at all. In this case, your heart attack might not be picked up until later down the track.

It is possible to experience several of these symptoms or just one. They usually last for at least 10 minutes and may come on suddenly or get worse as time passes.

And did you know women are more likely than men to suffer from the non-chest pain symptoms listed above, along with feeling fatigued or tired? Read more about specific warning signs and risk factors for women.

Here are some heart-healthy tips to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack:
  • Be smoke free 
  • Do regular exercise  
  • Eat a heart healthy diet 
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Reduce your alcohol intake 
  • Look after your mental health 
  • Manage high blood pressure and cholesterol 
  • For people with diabetes, manage blood sugar levels.

The warning signs of a heart attack vary, and it is important to recognise them, as ignoring them could be fatal. Knowing the symptoms and acting on them quickly can increase your chance of survival. If you, or someone else, is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, call Triple Zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. 

Don’t forget – if you’re 45 and over (or 30 and over if you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander), book a Heart Health Check with your GP today.  Having a regular Heart Health Check will help you better understand your risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.   

You might also be interested in

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Dan was six minutes into his treadmill session when his heart stopped beating....

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease....

Get heart attack recovery emails

Get heart attack recovery emails

Get heart attack recovery emails

The Heart Foundation has designed a series of emails to help people who've had heart attacks (and their loved ones) through their recovery....

Heart health information in your language

Heart health information in your language

A selection of heart health information brochures in a range languages...

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Explore our guide for driving and heart attack recovery. ...

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. ...

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Got a question about your heart?...

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Thankfully for Grant Byrne, a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan, some quick thinking helped him avoid a stairway to heaven. Read Grant’s heart attack story now. ...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Jump Rope for Heart

Jump Rope for Heart

Jump Rope for Heart

Jump Rope for Heart teaches school children how to keep fit and healthy through skipping!...

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Building physical activity into urban planning and design

Building physical activity into urban planning and design

Building physical activity into urban planning and design

Resources available for built environment professionals to help guide in the development of active outdoor and indoor spaces....

Physical activity in the workplace

Physical activity in the workplace

Physical activity in the workplace

Resources to help you create a more physically active workplace....

Getting active at school

Getting active at school

Getting active at school

Physical activity resources for school staff....

Healthy Active by Design

Healthy Active by Design

Healthy Active by Design

Improving the design of our cities, towns, streets and buildings makes it easier for Australians to lead heart-healthy lives....

Your heart is your most important tool

Your heart is your most important tool

Your heart is your most important tool

Men’s Health Week is the perfect time to think about your heart....

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Try our Heart Age Calculator to understand what contributes to your risk of heart disease....

Stay informed about COVID-19

Stay informed about COVID-19

Stay informed about COVID-19

If you have heart disease, you are more vulnerable to severe complications....

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Sign up now and discover delicious, easy to follow dinner recipes. Plus shopping lists, tips and other helpful information to make healthy eating easy. ...

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book your Heart Health Check today...

Coronary Artery Calcium Score

Coronary Artery Calcium Score

A Coronary Artery Calcium Score or CT Calcium test can be used to estimate your risk of heart attack or stroke....

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease....

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast....

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects your heart’s pumping rhythm....

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be....

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....

Chest x-ray for heart disease

Chest x-ray for heart disease

Chest x-ray for heart disease

This test can help your doctor determine if there is anything wrong with your heart....

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Learn about the common tests your doctor may want you to have to diagnose your heart condition....

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of heart conditions....

Risk factors for women

Risk factors for women

Risk factors for women

In Australia, 90% of women have one risk factor for heart disease, and 50% have two or more. ...

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it. ...

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

Cooking at home is often healthier than eating out....

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body....