How to Recognize the Signs of a Mild Heart Attack

How to Recognize the Signs of a Mild Heart Attack
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Having a mild heart attack can be just as frightening as it is to have a full-blown heart attack. It also warrants just as much concern — while a mild heart attack may not be life-threatening it is a sign that there are problems within the cardiovascular system. What are the specific signs of a mild heart attack and how do they compare to the real thing? What is the essential difference between the two occurrences?


The symptoms of a mild heart attack are very similar to those of unstable angina. Angina is basically chest pain due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart muscle. It is the squeezing, tightening, pressure and pain around the chest area. Often starting under the breastbone, angina pain can radiate to the throat, neck, jaw, left shoulder, and left arm as well. Stable angina occurs because of a trigger such as physical activity or emotional stress. Unstable angina is unpredictable and just happens. It is also very often an early warning sign that a heart attack may occur down the road.

A mild heart attack is very similar to unstable angina, only a bit more severe. With a mild heart attack the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart is reduced enough to cause damage to the muscle. The most common sign is the intense chest pain, heaviness, tightness, and pressure. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Pain elsewhere, such as the jaw, throat, shoulder, or neck

It is important to note that women more than men tend to experience the atypical signs in addition to or even instead of the telltale chest pain.

What Is the Difference Between Mild and Major?

How do the symptoms of a mild heart attack differ from the warning signs of a major heart attack? They are actually more or less the same — chest pain, discomfort, and/or tightness, the same painful sensation expanding to other areas, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness, and dizziness. The striking difference however is that the symptoms of a heart attack will not go away, even after thirty minutes or more.

This is because with a major heart attack blood flow is completely cut off in one or more of the arteries. With angina there is only a reduction — symptoms are relieved by rest or oral medication. With a mild heart attack the blockage is intermittent, not complete. There is probably a blood clot that is inhibiting blood flow, but it has not fully plugged an artery. Like with a major heart attack there is damage to the heart muscle. For this reason and because the symptoms are so similar it is still important to call for emergency medical care. If someone is having a heart attack, reaching life saving medical treatment within one hour greatly improves the chances of the individual’s survival.

Unstable Angina, Mild Heart Attack, or Major Heart Attack

A doctor will check to find out what exactly caused the signs of either angina, a mild heart attack, or a major heart attack. An electrocardiogram (ECG) can show a medical professional if a patient has had a mild or major attack. The pattern for a mild heart attack is significantly different than that of a major one. To determine if a patient has had a mild heart attack or simply an episode of unstable angina they will do a blood test. This blood test will show if there are proteins in the blood from a damaged heart muscle. If there are, then a mild heart attack occurred.

Knowing how to recognize the signs of a mild heart attack is important. Understanding the necessity of getting to emergency medical care is even more important. Keep in mind that with either type of heart attack there is damage to the heart muscle. The faster someone is given care, the less damage and the greater chance of survival. Our hearts are in our hands. We have the medical care to deal with most heart attacks, it is up to us to recognize the warning signs and react.


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photo by: Aussie Gail (CC/flickr)