Pre-Heart Attack Symptoms

Most of us are aware that a heart attack can affect people in a variety of different ways. Not everyone experiences that sharp, shooting pain that sends them down to their knees. But this fact doesn't make a heart attack, or an acute myocardial infraction, any less serious. It can do a great deal of damage to the structure and function of the organ, making it very important to understand any prodromal symptoms of a heart attack. And much like a heart attack itself, these "pre" symptoms can vary greatly from person to person.

Pain and Discomfort

Prior to a heart attack, people can often feel some pain or discomfort within the chest. Both of these sensations will manifest quite differently in different people. For some, it feels almost like a pressure or force being placed on the chest. For others, the pain is more of an ache or squeezing on the heart itself. It can even feel as if the chest has become full or engorged. However, it isn't only the chest where the pain or discomfort is felt. It can also spread out into other areas of the body, like the shoulders, back and even neck or jaw. With any of these uncomfortable and distressing warning signs, they can last for seconds, minutes or longer.

Respiratory Disturbances

It's also not uncommon for someone to experience a certain amount of respiratory disturbance preceding a heart attack. With this prodromal symptom, a person would suffer an uninitiated shortness of breath, meaning this feeling of windedness will manifest without physical exertion or due to some activity that wouldn't normally cause this sensation. And much like the "pre" symptom of pain, it can be brief to lengthy in span of time.


Since there is typically an instigating factor to a heart attack, like hypertension, heart disease, cardiovascular disease or a heart defect, a person may experience an unusual amount of fatigue. This is largely due to how the heart is functioning. With any of the aforementioned conditions, the heart inevitably needs to work harder than normal or is experiencing a deprivation in blood and oxygen. When any of these factors occur, it will eventually take a toll on the person, and he will begin to feel more and more fatigued.

Sleep Disturbances

For many people, another prodromal symptom of a heart attack can take the form of a disruption in sleep. With this particular grouping of symptoms, a person might suffer from periods of sleeplessness or restlessness. She may also experience bouts of insomnia, where she would have trouble either getting to sleep or staying asleep. And as with any of the "pre-heart attack" symptoms, sleep disturbances can manifest weeks to months before ever suffering a myocardial infraction.


We've all heard that people can confuse a heart attack with a wicked case of heartburn, as the burning sensation within the chest can be felt in either condition. But it's also possible that indigestion itself, especially the recurrent kind, can be a warning sign of a heart attack.

Cognitive Distress

Though not always thought of as a prodromal symptom of a heart attack, cognitive distress can help indicate that this type of medical emergency is on the horizon, particularly when other "pre" symptoms are present. In this situation, a person would start to suffer from some level of anxiety or fear, mostly surrounding her life and longevity.


While not necessarily a prodromal symptom of a heart attack, a person's lifestyle can contribute greatly to a myocardial infraction. A person's weight, diet, activity level and emotional state can play a role in setting the stage for a heart attack. Someone who has a great amount of excess weight (obesity), a smoking habit, a sedentary life, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or is continually stressed can put him at a greater risk for suffering a heart attack.

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About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.