Does Heart Attack Pain Come in Waves or Is it Constant?


Think of heart attack pain as layers rather than waves, although duration may also indicate that you are experiencing a heart attack. If the varied symptoms persist for longer than 15 minutes, it is best to err on the side of caution and get to an emergency room as soon as possible.

The Layers

  • From those who have not experienced a heart attack, the pain is distinct, like nothing you've ever felt before. While angina can be similar in symptoms, it is usually less intense. Heart attacks are typically described as a "heavy, strangulating or suffocating feeling" usually emanating from the chest. The pain can spread from the left side of the chest to throat, neck, jaw, left shoulder and arm and sometimes to the right side of the body, as well. Each extension will feel like it is layering on the previous.


  • The symptoms are very similar to a heart attack although usually less severe. That's a tough thing for the person experiencing the symptoms to determine if you've never experienced one or the other. Angina is an intense experience that may lead you to believe you are having a heart attack, though the symptoms will likely subside with brief rest and nitroglycerin or another nitrate under your tongue. The symptoms last about 15 minutes or so but if the symptoms don't subside get to a hospital for a check-up. Long-lasting angina may be a prelude to a heart attack. Statistics show that half of those suffering from angina suffer sudden death. One third are likely heart attack candidates, mostly older men. Angina is often the first layer to indicate a likely heart attack.

It May Not Happen All at Once

  • Very often the symptoms of a heart attack will come in waves, but not always. If any or all symptoms persist, immediately get to an emergency room. Sometimes the symptoms will arrive and subside only to return a short time later. If that occurs, again, seek immediate medical attention.


  • According to Cedars Sinai Hospital, a highly respected authority on heart attacks, there are physical experiences that may occur before the onset of a heart attack. They may include faintness, sudden sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, especially in older people, heavy pounding of the heart, abnormal heart rhythms, loss of consciousness, which sometimes is the first symptom of a heart attack, feelings of restlessness, sweatiness, anxiety and a sense of impending doom or a bluish coloration to the lips hands or feet. Disorientation may be another sign. The symptoms may come in layers or waves or may occur simultaneously.

It May Not Be a Heart Attack

  • A lot of the symptoms may be indicative of other problems, none of which should be taken lightly. Similar pains can be caused by pneumonia, a blood clot in the lung, a rib fracture, a spasm of the esophagus, indigestion or chest muscle tenderness after injury or exertion. A heart attack can be confirmed within a few hours of its occurrence if proper treatment is sought.

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