The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

heart attack

It’s critical to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a heart attack so you’re prepared if you or a loved one has a cardiac event. In these events, every second counts. If you miss heart attack warning signs, you can develop lifelong complications, or even worse. 

In this article, you will read about a few ways you can better prevent and prepare for a heart attack. First, you’ll read about heart attack warning signs and how they can present differently. Then, a step-by-step guide will walk you through what to do if you or a loved one is having a heart attack. You can round out your heart attack prevention and preparation with some lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk of heart attack. Keep in mind that a medical alert system is a wonderful addition to your heart attack preparation. Learn how a PERS device (personal emergency response system) could save a life during a heart attack in the last section.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Though not everyone experiences a heart attack in the same way, there are a few heart attack warning signs that everyone should look for and respond to in an emergency. Once you know how a heart attack presents, you can also spot symptoms in loved ones and get them the help they need as quickly as possible.

  • Chest discomfort or pain that lasts longer than 15 minutes. This might feel like squeezing, pain, uncomfortable pressure, or fullness. The discomfort or pain might spread into your jaw, shoulders, neck, back, or arms. These feelings could also go away and come back, so keep an eye on any potential chest discomfort or pain.
  • Shortness of breath. When the heart is diseased or damaged, it doesn’t pump out enough blood and fluid can build up in the lungs. A heart attack can make it difficult to catch your breath. You might feel as though you are being smothered, or like you cannot take a deep breath. 
  • Nausea or indigestion. This is a tricky one. Heartburn can mimic a heart attack, making it difficult to know when nausea and indigestion are actually warning signs of a heart attack.[1] Be on the lookout for other heart attack symptoms if you feel nausea or indigestion.
  • Pain in your arm(s). Pain in one or both arms is one of the telltale warning signs of a heart attack. The pain might move from the shoulder down the arm or up toward the chin.  

However, not all heart attacks look and feel the same. Certain conditions, like diabetes, can influence how a person experiences a heart attack. Diabetes can cause neuropathy, which damages nerves throughout the body. Someone with diabetes and neuropathy might not be able to feel the warning signs of a heart attack. In this case, use other clues like sudden nausea, shortness of breath, and consistently high glucose levels that do not have another explanation.

Men and women might experience heart attack warning signs differently. In fact, women often do not know when they are having a heart attack because they do not know how heart attack warning signs differ between men and women[2]. Many women do not feel chest pain and instead might experience intense fatigue, shortness of breath, sweating, heartburn, or dizziness, as well as discomfort in the upper back, abdomen, jaw, shoulder, or neck. 

What to Do if You’re Having a Heart Attack

Learning the warning signs of a heart attack is just the first step. If you are experiencing warning signs of a heart attack, you must take action. These measures are intended to get you fast help while also reducing any long-term complications.

If you suspect you are having a heart attack, you should:

  • Call 911. Don’t drive yourself to the hospital or let a loved one having a heart attack drive, either. An ambulance is more than just transportation. The sooner someone having a heart attack can get care, the better. Driving is not safe because heart attack symptoms can worsen, putting everyone on the roads at risk. If you have an In-Home + On-the-Go + Fall Detection medical alert system, you can summon emergency help immediately just by pressing the button on the system. 
  • Take aspirin. Make sure to chew and swallow completely. Aspirin prevents blood clots and can reduce potential heart damage during a heart attack. Use personal caution when taking aspirin and do not take aspirin if you are allergic to it or if your doctor says you should not take it.
  • Take nitroglycerin. This prescription medication will come from a doctor. Only take nitroglycerin if you have a prescription from your doctor. You can take nitroglycerin after you have called 911 and while you are waiting for emergency responders to arrive.

You might have to support someone else while they are having a heart attack. In this case, you should still call for emergency services and give them aspirin and nitroglycerin (if prescribed). However, you should also:

  • Start doing CPR if the person loses consciousness. Check if the person having a heart attack is still breathing and whether or not they have a pulse. If not, you should begin CPR. You can get a CPR certification, but at the very least you should have a working knowledge of CPR. 
  • Locate an automated external defibrillator (AED). Many public spaces are required to have an AED. Find out where it is and follow instructions to use it on the person having a heart attack.

Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Heart Attacks

You can lower your risk of having a heart attack by making some of the following lifestyle changes. 

  • Assess your family history for risk. A genetic predisposition for heart disease can increase your risk of heart attacks. You cannot control this. However, your lifestyle choices and other health conditions also play a role in heart attack risk, some of which is within your ability to manage.
  • Reduce stress. You can reduce stress with a few different strategies[3]. Luckily, many of the ways you reduce stress also help to prevent heart attacks, including exercising, eating healthy foods, and quitting smoking. You can also reduce stress by limiting your social media usage and increasing your connections with loved ones.
  • Quit smoking. The American Heart Association reports that quitting smoking lowers the risk for heart disease, recurring heart attacks, and death from heart disease by 50%. Smoking also contributes to higher stress levels, which impact heart attack risk. 
  • Exercise regularly. For many people, regular exercise looks like engaging in 20-30 minutes of moderately intense activities every day. Focus on aerobic exercise for heart health. However, even a simple daily walk can point you in the right, heart-healthy direction. Wear an On-the-Go Wrist Watch Medical Alert + GPS + Pedometer to count your steps and feel comfortable while out on the trails.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Focus on heart-healthy foods. Keep an eye on your portion sizes and stick to a low-fat diet, including low-fat protein sources. Incorporate more whole grains, poultry, vegetable oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fish. Reduce alcohol intake as much as possible, though you can still drink in moderation. Avoid red meats, sodium, added sugar, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats. 
  • Manage high blood pressure. If you can maintain healthy blood pressure levels, you can reduce your risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. Untreated high blood pressure can debilitate the body over time and lead to a fatal heart attack. Managing high blood pressure is a great way to reduce your risk of having a heart attack. Strategies for high blood pressure management include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, reducing caffeine, and reducing stress.
  • Manage high blood cholesterol. High cholesterol increases the development of fatty deposits in blood vessels. These deposits ultimately grow and reduce blood flow through the arteries. When a deposit breaks, the resulting clot can cause a stroke or heart attack. Managing high blood cholesterol includes reducing trans fats and saturated fats in your diet, eating more omega-3 fatty acids, exercising regularly, and eating more plant-based proteins. 
  • Manage diabetes. Having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. High blood sugar impacts the nerves and blood vessels of the heart. You might also develop other conditions, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, as a result of having diabetes. All of these conditions increase your risk of having a heart attack. Take all prescribed medication for diabetes and keep careful track of your blood sugar. You can also manage diabetes by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting quality sleep, and losing weight.

Heart attack prevention requires a working knowledge of your family history and current health conditions[4]. Understanding what might impact your risk of heart attack can help you better prevent and prepare for a heart attack.  

A Medical Alert System is Essential in Your Heart Attack Preparation Plans

An emergency alert system can get you the help you need immediately during a heart attack. 

Alert1 24/7 Command Centers are staffed with highly trained and certified agents. If you press the button on your medical alert system, you will quickly connect to one of these agents and they will stay on the line with you until emergency responders arrive. 

If you are not able to press the button for any reason, a medical alert pendant or necklace with fall detection technology can help. The sensors can automatically detect falls and place an alert to one of Alert1’s 24/7 Command Centers. 

This potentially life-saving tool is extremely affordable, starting at under $20 per month for an in-home alert system. You will never pay for multiple button pushes or “false alarms.”

A medical alert system for seniors or anyone with heart concerns is an effective way to prepare for a possible heart attack, when every second counts. Live your life with the comfort of knowing you can connect with help fast whenever and wherever you might need it.



[1] Nall, Rachel. 2021, Nov. 5. Am I having Heartburn or a Heart Attack? Am I having Heartburn or a Heart Attack?

[2] Mayo Clinic Staff. 2016. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors. Mayo Clinic. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors.

[3] Scott, Elizabeth. 2021, Jul. 29. Effective Stress Relievers for Your Life. VeryWell Mind. Effective Stress Relievers for Your Life.

[4] Holland, Kimberly. Family Health History: Why It’s Important and What You Should Know. Family Health History: Why It’s Important and What You Should Know.