Your Ultimate Guide to Heart Attacks: Symptoms, Reasons, Diagnosis, Prevention and First Aid

Key Takeaways:

1. Heart attacks
: A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart is blocked. It leads to oxygen deficiency and subsequent damage to the heart tissue. Quick action is essential for survival.

2. Recognizing symptoms
: Heart attack symptoms vary and may include chest pain, breathlessness, nausea, sweating, and fatigue. Women may experience different symptoms than men, making awareness crucial for prompt intervention.

3. Risks
: Some risk factors, like age, gender, and heredity, are beyond control. Modifiable factors such as smoking, high BP, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, stress, alcohol consumption, and poor diet contribute significantly to heart attack risk.

4. Diagnosis and first aid
: Diagnosis involves EKG, chest X-ray, blood tests, and imaging scans. In case of a heart attack, calling an ambulance, helping the person lie comfortably, monitoring vital signs, performing CPR if necessary, and using an AED if available are crucial steps.

5. Prevention
: Prevention strategies include regular check-ups, avoiding smoking, a healthy diet, exercise, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, taking prescribed medications, and being aware of modifiable risk factors.


There has been news of a lot more people having heart attacks these days than ever before.

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart gets blocked. This causes the heart muscles not to have enough oxygen. The deficiency of oxygen leads to the death of the heart tissue, damaging the heart's pumping ability.

However, having a heart attack does not mean certain death. If you take quick action, it is possible to survive a heart attack. Hence, let's learn about heart attacks and what you can do when someone has one to ensure survival.

What is a Heart Attack?

Even your heart needs oxygen. The heart has specialized blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the heart tissue. These blood vessels are called coronary arteries.

How heart attack happens is there's a sudden blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries. This blockage is typically due to a blood clot in a narrowed or ruptured coronary artery.

A visual representation of What is a heart attack
Blockage in arteries

When blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, the heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen and starts to die. This results in various symptoms of heart attack.

Prompt intervention, like medications or procedures, is crucial to restore blood flow and minimize damage.

Heart Attack Symptoms and Signs

Heart attack symptoms may vary from person to person. It doesn't always start with a throbbing pain in your chest. At times, a heart attack may only show mild to moderate symptoms.

Hence, it is vital to be aware of heart attack symptoms and call an ambulance immediately if you suspect one. Let's discuss the typical heart attack early warning signs.

  1. Chest pain or discomfort
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Nausea or vomiting
  4. Light-headedness or fainting
  5. Sweating
  6. Discomfort or ache in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  7. A feeling of impending doom or anxiety
  8. Fatigue

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Though most heart attack symptoms are similar in men and women, there are also a few distinctions.

During a heart attack, women are less likely to have chest pain or discomfort. Instead, they are more likely to have symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia that started before the heart attack
  • Pain in the back, shoulders, neck, arms, or abdomen
Image showing heart attack symptoms
Heart attack symptoms

Reasons for Heart Attack

There can be many reasons that collectively may lead to a heart attack. Three broad risk factors that can increase your chances of a heart attack are as follows.

Factors You Cannot Change

You are either born with these risk factors or cannot change them. These risk factors include:

  1. Increasing age: As one ages, the risk of getting a heart attack and dying from it increases.
  2. Male gender: Men have a higher chance of having a heart attack than women. Also, they may get it at an earlier age.
  3. Heredity: If you have a family history of heart disease, there is a greater chance of having a heart attack.

Modifiable Risk Factors

You can modify some risk factors through lifestyle changes and medications. These risk factors include:

  1. Smoking: Smokers have a greater likelihood of heart attacks.
  2. High blood cholesterol: If you have high cholesterol, you are at an increased risk of coronary heart disease and getting a heart attack.
  3. High Blood Pressure: Having high BP causes an increase in your heart's workload. It raises your chances of a heart attack.
  4. Physical Inactivity: If you live an inactive lifestyle, you are at a higher risk of getting a heart attack.
  5. Obesity: Even if you have no other risk, you are more likely to develop heart disease if you have extra body fat.
  6. Diabetes: About 68% of people over 65 who have diabetes die from cardiovascular disease.

Contributing Risk Factors

These factors may increase cardiovascular disease risk, but their significance and prevalence are unknown. These risk factors include:

  1. Stress: People who regularly suffer from a lot of stress have a higher chance of having a heart attack.
  2. Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can elevate your blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease.
  3. Diet and Nutrition: If you regularly eat an unhealthy diet, you are at a higher risk of a heart attack.

How are Heart Attacks Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose heart attacks mostly in emergency rooms. Doctors diagnose based on the patient's physical symptoms and specific tests.

Some tests that the doctor may do are:

  1. Electrocardiogram (EKG/ ECG): It is the first test doctors perform to diagnose a heart attack. This test records the electrical signals that the heart produces. An EKG can tell the doctors if you are having a heart attack or already had one.
  2. Chest X-ray: An X-ray can help doctors know the size and condition of your heart.
  3. Blood test: After you have a heart attack, there is a specific heart protein that leaks into the blood. This protein acts as a marker of heart attack occurrence. Hence, your doctor may perform a blood test to determine whether this marker is in your blood.
  4. Echocardiogram: Echocardiogram can create images of your moving heart using sound waves (ultrasound). It is helpful for doctors to understand if any area in the heart is damaged.
  5. Heart computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan uses X-rays to form a detailed image of your heart. This imaging helps the doctors determine the extent of damage to the heart.
  6. Heart magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate a detailed image of your heart. It, too, helps the doctor understand your heart's condition and the extent of the damage.
  7. Angiogram: The doctor enters a long tube into the leg arteries and guides it to the heart. Dye is injected through a thin tube to make the arteries clearer in the images taken during the test. It helps your doctor discover areas with little to no blood supply.

First Aid for Heart Attack: Steps You Must Take to Save Someone's Life

Knowing how to help someone during a heart attack can save lives. As a first aid for heart attack, you can take the following steps.

  1. Call an ambulance: The first thing you must do when someone is having a heart attack is rush them to a hospital. Hence, call an emergency helpline (or ambulance) immediately.
  2. Help Positioning: Have the person sit down or lie comfortably, whichever is more comfortable for them.
  3. Monitor Vital Signs: Observe the person's breathing, pulse, and consciousness. Be prepared to perform CPR, if necessary.
  4. CPR for heart attack (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation): If the person isn't breathing and doesn't have a pulse, start CPR. If you do not know how to do CPR, then perform hands-on CPR by pushing forcefully and rapidly on the person's chest. Strive for 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
  5. Automated external defibrillator (AED): If the person is unconscious, use an AED if available. The device resets the heart's rhythm by delivering an electrical shock to the heart.

How to Prevent Heart Attack

With such high rates of heart disease in India, it is always better to focus on prevention. You can prevent heart attacks if you keep your heart healthy. You can do it by making the following lifestyle changes.

  1. Go for regular checkups with your doctor.
  2. Avoiding smoking.
  3. Eating a healthy diet.
  4. Performing cardio exercises for at least 150 minutes a week.
  5. Doing strength training twice a week.
  6. Maintaining a weight that is healthy for you.
  7. Learning and practicing stress-relieving exercises.
  8. Taking your prescribed medications on time.
An image showing how to prevent heart attacks
How to prevent heart attack


What is the difference between stroke and heart attack?

Table 1
Aspect Stroke Heart Attack
Definition Occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, leading to brain cell damage. Happens when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked, causing heart muscle damage.
Causes Usually caused by a blood clot or a burst blood vessel in the brain. Typically caused by a blood clot blocking a coronary artery supplying blood to the heart.
Symptoms Symptoms can be sudden, one-sided body numbness or weakness, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, and severe headache. Symptoms may include chest pain or discomfort, breathlessness, nausea, and light-headedness.
Urgency Requires immediate medical attention to prevent further brain damage. Also requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent heart muscle damage or death.
Treatment may involve clot-busting drugs, surgery, or other procedures to restore the brain's blood flow. Treatment may involve medications, procedures like angioplasty or stent placement, or surgery to restore blood flow to the heart.

What is heart attack pulse rate?

The pulse rate varies depending on factors like the person's age and the heart attack's severity.

It can increase due to stress and decreased oxygen supply to the heart. There's no specific rate, so seek immediate medical help if you suspect a heart attack.

The difference between cardiac arrest vs heart attack

Table 2
Cardiac Arrest
Heart Attack
Sudden loss of heart function, leading to cessation of blood circulation
Blockage of blood flow to a part of the heart muscle
Electrical malfunction in the heart
Blockage in a coronary artery, usually due to plaque buildup
Sudden loss of consciousness, no pulse, no breathing
Chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness
Risk Factors
Prior heart disease, family history, arrhythmias
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes
CPR, defibrillation, emergency medical care
Medications, angioplasty, stent placement, bypass surgery
Immediate medical attention is critical, often fatal without intervention
Can lead to serious complications or death if not treated promptly


If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, call emergency services. You can take specific measures to help the person. However, a doctor needs to treat the heart attack.

It is always better to take measures to prevent heart attacks. Make the recommended lifestyle changes and reduce your modifiable risk factors for a heart attack.

To get personalized guidance to prevent ever having a heart attack, download the Aware Health Rewards app. Aware provides you with all the tools you need to improve your health. Our goal is to make sure you never have to deal with a heart attack. Download the Aware app today!

About the author: 

Lucky Mehtani
, B. Pharm, merges his healthcare expertise with a passion for writing to enhance India's heart health. Through insightful blogs, he provides well-researched information on managing Diabetes, Hypertension, and High Cholesterol, aiming to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Share this post
Aware App Icon
Download Aware: The #1 health app for a strong and healthy heart.
Post questions or comments
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Author Name
Comment Time

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere. uis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Author Name
Comment Time

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere. uis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.