Heart Attack Facts or Myths?

Are These Statements About Heart Attacks Truth or Myth?

chest pain
Chest pain is very common, but isn't the only symptom of heart attack. Colin Hawkins/Getty Images

Recognizing a heart attack may make the difference between surviving one or not. There are several misconceptions about what heart attacks are and what to expect if you experience one. Here we clear those myths away so you can recognize a heart attack when you see--or feel--one.

A Heart Attack Stops the Heart From Beating

woman doing CPR on a man
When your heart stops, it's called cardiac arrest. Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images


When the heart stops, it's called cardiac arrest and it kills you unless it's treated. It's certainly possible to die from a heart attack, but it's not required. Here's the difference between heart attacks and cardiac arrest:

Heart attacks happen when blood flow to the heart muscle.htm">Heart attacks happen when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocblocked by plaque and blood clots. The heart muscle begins to die and may cause pain in the chest.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood. A cardiac arrest victim will not be breathing or have a pulse.

Heart attacks lead to cardiac arrest. If you do manage to get to cardiac arrest, the chance of surviving outside of a hospital is extremely low. Don't wait to get help for a heart attack.

Stroke is Another Name for Heart Attack

man with an oxygen mask
Shortness of breath is a mainstay of heart attack. Vstock LLC / Getty Images


Heart attacks are caused by decreased blood flow to the heart muscle, often from blood clots. Strokes are caused by decreased blood flow to the brain, also often from blood clots. The two conditions look very different.

Heart attacks commonly cause chest pain and shortness of breath. Strokes often lead to weakness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, confusion, and unconsciousness.

Call 911 for Chest Pain

ambulance responding
911 is the way to go for chest pain.


If you have chest pain, call 911. Many people who rightly believe that emergency services are for emergencies wrongly believe that chest pain is not an emergency. Your doctor, however, probably doesn't have the tools you need if, in fact, you are having a heart attack.

Ambulances and hospitals work closely together to quickly identify and treat heart-related emergencies. Personal physicians are not included in the planning process and may slow the response. In cardiac emergencies, time is muscle and the more heart muscle you lose the more chance you have of cardiac arrest (see slide 2).

No Chest Pain Means It's Not a Heart Attack

woman with chest pain
Chest pain can be from the heart or something else. Science Photo Library / Getty Images


While it is true that heart attacks often cause pain in the chest, it is not necessary. The classic symptoms of a heart attack include a heavy feeling in the chest that may be painful. The heaviness or pain may spread to the left arm, neck, or jaw. Patients often complain of shortness of breath. Another common complaint is burning in the chest mistaken as heartburn.

Indeed, it's common for heart attack victims to simply feel a foreboding of doom, which is one time you should really follow your heart.

Heart Attacks Feel Different to Women than Men

woman collapsed in fatigue
Fatigue is a symptom of heart attack. Macduff Everton / Getty Images


Much has been published about the differences between men and women when it comes to heart attacks.

It's more common for women having heart attacks to deny feeling chest pain in the emergency department than it is for men.

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