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By knowing the heart attack warning signs you could save a life – and it might be your own

Too many New Zealanders die or live with permanent disability because of lack of awareness of heart attack warning signs and delays in seeking medical help.

A heart attack is a life-threatening condition that can cause permanent damage to your heart muscle. Within minutes after blood flow to part of the heart is blocked, this part of the heart muscle begins to die. However, it is possible to limit the damage after a heart attack. The earlier the blocked artery can be opened and the blood flow restored to the heart muscle, the more likely the heart muscle can be saved and the chances of survival improved.

View the interactive heart attack warning signs tool below or check out our heart attack warning signs poster.

Common Heart Attack Warning Signs

If you have chest discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes
it may be a sign of a heart attack.

This discomfort may:

  • Initially come and go
  • Be in one or both arms (more commonly the left)
  • Go into your neck, back, jaw, stomach or abdomen

It may feel like:

  • Squeezing
  • Pressing
  • Tightness
  • Fullness
  • Pain

Along with the chest discomfort, you may also experience one or more of the following:

  • Sweating
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Feeling sick
  • Vomiting
  • Being short of breath

Heart attack warning signs are not always what you think

Symptoms vary and they may not always be sudden or severe. Our free Heart Attack action plan resources contain a quick reference guide showing you the symptoms you may experience so you know when to act.

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Create a heart attack action plan

Heart attacks and people with diabetes

It may be possible to experience no pain (in particular in women or diabetic people) or the only sign may be an indigestion type of discomfort.

People with diabetes can develop damage to their nerves (neuropathy). If the nerves supplying your heart are damaged you may not feel the usual pain if your heart muscle is becoming short of oxygen or glucose. If you have this problem you must rely on other signs. These are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexpected nausea
  • Consistently high blood glucose levels that don’t seem to have an explainable reason
  • Swelling of the ankles

Heart attacks and women

A woman may have some of the same symptoms as a man, but:

  • The pain is likely to spread as far as the shoulders, neck, abdomen and even the back
  • The pain may feel more like indigestion
  • The pain may not be consistent
  • There may not be pain but unexplained anxiety, nausea, dizziness, palpitations and cold sweat
  • She may experience unexplained tiredness prior to developing other symptoms.
Everything is dependent on my heart, mechanically, electrically, physiologically, emotionally and passionately. Whatever happens it all comes back to how well your heart performs in all areas.Helen Thompson-Carter
Helen Thompson-Carter
Remember:

Call 111.
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IN 2011 2585 PEOPLE DIED OF HEART ATTACK. 1176 WERE WOMEN.
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AVERAGE NUMBER OF HOURS BEFORE RECEIVING TREATMENT.
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A THIRD OF PATIENTS WAIT MORE THAN 6 HOURS FOR TREATMENT.

Continue the journey

Heart attack action plan
What to do if you develop warning signs of a heart attack
Read more
Warning signs quiz
Test your knowledge of the warning signs of a heart attack
Read more

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