Heart attack

  • Alternative Names

    Myocardial infarction; MI; Acute MI; ST-elevation myocardial infarction; non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction


    Chest pain is a major symptom of heart attack. You may feel the pain in only one part of your body, or it may move from your chest to your arms, shoulder, neck, teeth, jaw, belly area, or back.

    The pain can be severe or mild. It can feel like:

    • A tight band around the chest
    • Bad indigestion
    • Something heavy sitting on your chest
    • Squeezing or heavy pressure

    The pain usually lasts longer than 20 minutes. Rest and a medicine called nitroglycerin may not completely relieve the pain of a heart attack. Symptoms may also go away and come back.

    Other symptoms of a heart attack include:

    • Anxiety
    • Cough
    • Fainting
    • Light-headedness, dizziness
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Palpitations (feeling like your heart is beating too fast or irregularly)
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sweating, which may be extreme

    Some people (the elderly, people with diabetes, and women) may have little or no chest pain. Or, they may experience unusual symptoms (shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness). A "silent heart attack" is a heart attack with no symptoms.

    Signs and tests

    A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. DO NOT try to drive yourself to the hospital. DO NOT DELAY, because you are at greatest risk of sudden cardiac death in the early hours of a heart attack.

    The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to your chest using a stethoscope. The doctor may hear abnormal sounds in your lungs (called crackles), a heart murmur, or other abnormal sounds.

    You may have a rapid pulse. Your blood pressure may be normal, high, or low.

    Tests to look at your heart include:

    • Coronary angiography
    • CT scan
    • Echocardiography
    • Electrocardiogram (ECG) -- once or repeated over several hours
    • MRI
    • Nuclear ventriculography

    Blood tests can help show if you have heart tissue damage or a high risk for heart attack. These tests include:

    • Troponin I and troponin T
    • CPK and CPK-MB
    • Serum myoglobin