Hesperian Health Guides

Heart Attack

Both men and women have heart attacks. Heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked for a long enough time that part of the heart muscle begins to die. This is usually caused by heart disease.

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  • Pressure, squeezing, tightness, burning, pain, or a full feeling in the chest
  • The pain may spread to the neck, shoulder, arms, teeth, or jaw
  • The pain usually comes on gradually,
    but sometimes can be sudden
    and intense
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Feeling lightheaded

Chest pain is the most common sign for both men and women, but women more often do not feel chest pain. Instead they feel shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, or back or jaw pain.


Give 1 tablet of aspirin right away (300 to 325 mg). Ask the person to chew it up and swallow it with water. Even if you are not sure the person is having a heart attack, aspirin will do no harm.

If you have it, give nitroglycerin dissolved under the tongue. Morphine helps with the pain and fear. Reassure the person and get help.

This page was updated:17 Sep 2020