Heart attack symptoms

The warning signs of a heart attack

Warning signs may not be what you think. They can vary from person to person, and they may not always be sudden or severe.

It's vital to get treatment fast, to limit damage to your heart. If you experience the warning signs of a heart attack, call Triple Zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Heart attack symptoms

These are the most common warning signs of a heart attack. You may have just one of these symptoms, or a combination.

Discomfort or pain in your chest

This can often feel like a heaviness, tightness or pressure. People who have had a heart attack have commonly described it as like “an elephant sitting on my chest”, “a belt that’s been tightened around my chest” or “bad indigestion”. 

The discomfort may spread to different parts of your upper body.

Discomfort in your arm(s), shoulder(s), neck, jaw or back

You may have a choking feeling in your throat. Your arms may feel heavy or useless.

Other symptoms

You may:

  • feel short of breath
  • feel nauseous
  • have a cold sweat
  • feel dizzy or light-headed.

Some people have also described feeling generally unwell or “not quite right”.

Symptoms can come on suddenly or develop over minutes and get progressively worse. They usually last for at least 10 minutes.

Read about heart attack symptoms in your language

We have translated information in 11 different languages including Cantonese, Mandarin and Arabic. Find information in your language.

Call 000

If you experience the warning signs of heart attack for 10 minutes, if they are severe or get progressively worse, call Triple Zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

It’s OK if it’s a false alarm. That’s the best thing that could happen.

Too many people die from heart attack because they take too long to call an ambulance.

Act quickly when symptoms of heart attack happen. This can save your life and limit damage to your heart.

Treatment starts the minute you call. The operator can give you lifesaving advice and paramedics are trained to treat you from the moment they arrive.

Why this is important

Each year:

  • Around 55,000 Australians suffer a heart attack (1 heart attack every 10 minutes)
  • Almost 9000 Australians die of heart attack (1 life per 60 minutes)
  • 24 Australians died from a heart attack each day in 2013.

Learn the warning signs

Although chest pain or discomfort are common symptoms of a heart attack, some people will not experience chest pain at all, while others will experience only mild chest pain or discomfort. Others may experience 1 symptom, while some experience a combination.

If you’ve had one heart attack, you're at more risk of another. But the symptoms might be different.

For healthy heart tips to avoid a heart attack, listen to
audio presentations in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Women: know your symptoms

Women often think these warning signs are not to do with their heart, so they don’t take action. Know your symptoms and when to call Triple Zero (000).

Learn more: Women's warning signs

Recovering from a heart attack?

Learn more about heart attack recovery, including information on what happened to your heart, heart attack treatment and how you can recover sooner.

Heart attack first aid

Performing CPR can help save a life — often the life of a family member or someone you know. We recommend that every adult and teenager learn this lifesaving skill.

Contact us to order CPR resources, including a CPR booklet, poster and wallet card.

Learn more: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (PDF)

Call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 1300 36 27 87.

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call Triple Zero (000) — the operator will work out if you need an ambulance. And if it's a false alarm, well, that's the best thing that could happen.

Heart attack, cardiac arrest and CPR

A cardiac arrest may be caused by a heart attack.

A cardiac arrest occurs when your heart suddenly stops beating. A person in cardiac arrest will be unresponsive, not breathing normally and not moving. They need an immediate response.

You should begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) straight away and continue until an ambulance arrives.

If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, turn on the AED’s power. You’ll hear voice prompts and see prompts on a screen; follow these instructions. AEDs are user-friendly devices that untrained bystanders can use to save a life.

Remember DRSABCD

Before starting CPR, remember DRSABCD:

  • D – check for danger
  • R – check for responsiveness
  • S – send for help
  • A – open airway
  • B – check breathing
  • C – start CPR
  • D – attach defibrillator.

Knowing CPR can help save a life – maybe the life of someone close to you. Everyone should learn this lifesaving skill. Contact the Heart Foundation Helpline on 1300 36 27 87 for information on CPR courses in Australia.

Heart attack warning signs personal stories

Fact sheets

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Heart attack warning fact sheet

Will you recognise your heart attack?

The warning signs of heart attack can be varied and may not always be sudden or severe. You may have just one of these symptoms, or a combination of them. They can come on suddenly or develop over minutes and get progressively worse. Symptoms usually last for at least 10 minutes.

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