Harvard Heart Letter

Warning signs of a heart attack or stroke

Sometimes the signs of a heart attack or stroke are obvious. Sometimes they aren't. Here are lists of the "classic" and not-so-classic signs of each. If you If you notice one or more of the signs below in yourself or someone else, or you're really worried that you or someone you are with is having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Better safe than sorry. (Click here for a formatted version you can stick on your refrigerator or by the telephone.)

Heart attack warning signs

  • Pain, squeezing, fullness, burning, tightness, or uncomfortable pressure in the center of the chest

  • Pain, numbness, pinching, prickling, or other uncomfortable sensations in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach

  • Sudden nausea or vomiting or unexplained indigestion

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

  • Unusual fatigue

  • Sudden heat or flushing, or a cold sweat

  • Heaviness, weakness, or pain in one or both arms

  • Back pain

  • Racing or fluttering heart

Stroke warning signs

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding

  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

  • Sudden problem with walking, loss of balance, or coordination

  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Cardiac arrest warning signs

  • Sudden collapse with no response

  • Absence of normal breathing

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »