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Heart attack warning signs

Heart attack is a leading cause of death in New Zealand. Learn to recognise the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack, so you know what to do if you see or experience them.

Minutes matter – if you think you are having a heart attack, call 111 immediately. 

Too many New Zealanders die or live with permanent disability because of a lack of awareness of heart attack warning signs and delays in seeking medical help. Even if you have had a heart attack, you may experience another – and next time, the symptoms may be different. 

What does a heart attack feel like?

A heart attack may not be as dramatic as you think. If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be having a heart attack.

Do you feel any: In any of these areas: You may also feel: 
  • discomfort or pain
  • heaviness 
  • tightness 
  • pressure 
  • chest 
  • shoulder/s 
  • arm/s 
  • jaw 
  • neck 
  • back 
  • sweaty 
  • short of breath 
  • sick (nausea or vomiting) 
  • dizziness 
  • extreme fatigue 

What should I do if I think I’m having a heart attack?

Heart attack symptoms typically last more than a few minutes or may come and go. Symptoms vary from person to person. 

If you think you, or someone near you, might be having a heart attack don’t wait, call 111 immediately. 

Chew an aspirin if advised by a paramedic. 

If you have angina medication, take one puff of your GTN spray. Wait five minutes. If symptoms continue, take another puff and wait five minutes. If you still have symptoms, treat it as a heart attack. Call 111 for an ambulance.

Minutes matter

Too many New Zealanders die or live with permanent disability through lack of awareness of heart attack signs and delays in seeking medical help. Dr Gerry Devlin, Medical Director of the Heart Foundation, and Dr Tony Smith, Deputy Medical Director of St John, talk about warning signs and the importance of seeking medical help if you think you are having a heart attack. If you have any of these symptoms call 111 immediately. 

Is it possible to have another heart attack?

After having a heart attack, you're at risk of having another one. Many people do not recognise their next heart attack as the symptoms may be different. No two heart attacks are the same.

Download a copy of the heart attack warning signs poster to find out what other warning signs to look for.

Women and heart attack warning signs

Women may experience any of the heart attack warning signs. Chest pain or discomfort is the most common sign of a heart attack, but some women can experience a heart attack without chest pain or discomfort. 

Signs can vary and women’s heart attack signs may be slightly different to men’s. 

Women may experience nausea, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath or extreme fatigue. Any pain or discomfort may come and go and can extend to the abdomen or upper back.  

'Silent' heart attacks

If the nerves supplying your heart are damaged, you may not feel the usual pain if your heart muscle becomes short of oxygen. This is more common in people living with diabetes. If you have diabetes, consider other heart attack warning signs such as: 

  • shortness of breath 

  • unexpected nausea. 

Looking for more information about heart attacks?

Test your knowledge and take our warning signs quiz.

Find out about more about heart attacks and managing your risk. 

What is a heart attack?

Managing your risk

Browse our resource section for free heart attack resources, including posters and brochures to use in your house, clinic or hospital.