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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 now.

Too many New Zealanders die or live with permanent disability because of the 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 can 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.

If you think you are having symptoms

1. Stop and rest now

Tell someone how you feel.

2. If symptoms continue

for more than 10 minutes, call 111 and ask for an ambulance.

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. Wait five minutes. If you still have symptoms, treat as a heart attack. Call 111 and ask for an ambulance.

Minutes matter

Too many New Zealanders die or live with permanent disability through lack of awareness of heart attack signs and symptoms and delays in seeking medical help. Doctor Gerard Devlin, Medical Director, Heart Foundation and Doctor Tony Smith Medical Director of St John talk about warning signs and the importance of seeking medical attention if you think you are having a heart attack. If you have any of these symptoms longer than 10 minutes dial 111 now.

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.

Download a copy of the warning signs poster to find out what other warning signs to look for and what to do if you have another heart attack.

Women and heart attack warning signs

Women may experience any of the heart attack warning signs. However, they can sometimes experience heart attacks slightly differently to men:

  • the pain is more likely to spread as far as the shoulders, neck, abdomen and even the back
  • the pain may feel more like indigestion and not be consistent
  • there may not be pain but unexplained anxiety, nausea, dizziness, palpitations and cold sweat

Women may also experience unexplained tiredness prior to developing other heart attack symptoms.

'Silent' heart attacks and diabetes

People with diabetes can develop damage to their nerves (neuropathy). If the nerves supplying your heart are damaged, you may not feel the usual pain if your heart muscle becomes short of oxygen. If you're living with diabetes, you must rely on other warning signs such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • unexpected nausea
  • consistently high blood glucose levels that don't seem to have an explanation

Test your knowledge and take our warning signs quiz

Looking for more information about heart attacks?

Browse our resource section for free heart attack resources, including posters and brochures to use in your house, clinic or hospital. Or select from the following options.

Managing your risk

Try an online heart check