How Long Does a Heart Attack Last? Understanding the Timeframe


Heart attacks, no matter how big or small, should be taken seriously. They are defined as acute events, meaning they can happen suddenly, and are often caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to your heart, per the American Heart Association (AHA). But exactly how long does a heart attack last?

Heart attack duration and symptoms can vary greatly depending on the person, and no two heart attacks are the same. This is especially true depending on how quickly you get treatment.

Here, two cardiologists explain the average length of heart attacks, the warning signs to look for, and how to protect your heart in recovery.

How long does a heart attack last?

Because heart attacks are considered acute events, their duration is typically short. “They don’t last long, usually happening suddenly and severely,” says Ernst Von Schwarz, MD, a cardiologist and author of The Secrets of Immortality.

“A heart attack is a life-threatening condition, and individuals can succumb to it immediately. In some cases, however, there could be repeated small heart attacks because the [affected] blood vessel is not yet completely blocked,” he adds.

A heart attack does not last for days, but it’s possible for symptoms of a heart attack to linger, which can signal a looming threat of another attack. That’s why immediate care is so crucial.

“Typically patients seek medical attention within minutes to hours,” says Blair Suter, MD, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. But if symptoms are subtle, they may not seek care for a few days, he adds, which can be particularly dangerous and more difficult to treat.

Duration of heart attack symptoms 

Timing is everything when dealing with a heart attack. Before a full-on attack strikes, you may have symptoms for a few minutes or several hours that serve as warning signs, says Dr. Suter.

Symptoms typically include the following, per Dr. Suter:

  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Low blood pressure

These symptoms usually resolve if the heart attack itself is treated immediately, says Dr. Suter. But if it’s left untreated or there’s a delay in care, there’s a higher chance of permanent heart damage, and even death. In fact, up to 50 percent of heart attack deaths happen in the first three to four hours after symptoms start, per Cedars Sinai.

Heart attacks symptoms can also vary between men and women, according to the AHA. While chest pain is a hallmark symptom for most people, women are more likely to also have subtle symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, back pain, or jaw pain. “These atypical symptoms in women contribute to the frequent under-recognition or misdiagnosis of acute heart attacks, leading to delays in treatment and worse outcomes in women compared to men,” says Dr. Von Schwarz.

Women are also often underrepresented in research for heart disease, leading to significant gender disparities when it comes to how heart disease and heart attacks affect different genders, per the AHA.

There’s also evidence that heart disease in young adults is on the rise. In a March 2023 study in JAMA, researchers found increased rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity in young adults (ages 20 to 44 years old)—all of which are risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks.

Keep in mind: This information is not meant to scare you, but rather to make you aware of the risks that contribute to heart attack. If you’re unsure about your own heart health and risks, reach out to your doctor.

Warning signs of heart attack

There are several warning signs to look out for that could signal a heart attack, including the following, per Dr. Von Schwarz:

  • Worsening chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness (leading to fainting)

“These symptoms can be signs of a gradual blockage of the arteries, which may occur for weeks, if not months or years, before an acute heart attack occurs,” adds Dr. Von Schwarz. “Having any one of these symptoms may require a cardiac evaluation.”

While these are the most common signs of a heart attack, not everyone feels the same things, per Cedars Sinai. Some people may feel pain in the middle of their chest that spreads to their back, jaw, or arms, though 1 out of every 3 people who have heart attacks don’t get chest pain at all, per Cedars Sinai. You may even feel pain or discomfort in your stomach area, which can be mistaken for indigestion.

When to go to the ER

Time is of the essence when it comes to heart attacks, so it’s important to catch signs early and call 911 without hesitation. The most obvious sign it’s time to go to the ER? If you have new or worsening symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath, says Dr. Suter.

It’s also important to get care ASAP if you have any of the following risk factors for heart attack:

  • Obesity
  • Viral illnesses
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Strong family history of heart attacks
  • You’re 60 or older
  • You’re a smoker

And when it comes to treatment, every minute counts. A doctor may prescribe heart medications to start the recovery process, including the following, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Aspirin
  • Beta blockers (to slow heartbeat and lower blood pressure, if it’s too high)
  • Blood clot busters
  • Blood thinners
  • Statins (to lower cholesterol)
  • Morphine (to relieve pain)
  • Blood pressure medicine (also known as ACE inhibitors)


Are there ways to reduce your risk of heart attack?

The short answer? “Yes and no,” says Dr. Von Schwarz. You can reduce your risk of heart attack by addressing certain risk factors, which include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyles

But factors like genetics and family history are often out of your control. As long as you’re leading a healthy lifestyle—eating a balanced diet, getting exercise, staying hydrated, sleeping well, and treating any health concerns—you can at least slightly reduce your risk.

How can I rule out a heart attack at home?

“If you’re worried about a heart attack, you should seek medical care and not try to rule it out on your own,” says Dr. Suter. “This is a very serious medical condition that can have major consequences if not treated or if treatment is delayed.”

That said, Dr. Suter does suggest being well-informed about symptoms of heart attack, and knowing the differences between heart attacks and panic attacks, heart palpitations, and even indigestion—which can present with similar symptoms. While anxiety typically resolves after taking deep breaths and implementing relaxation techniques, and indigestion resolves after taking an antacid, heart attack symptoms will just continue to get worse as time goes on.

Bottom line: If you’re unsure of what’s going on, call 911. It’s better to be safe!

When should I go to the ER for chest pain?

Chest pain can be caused from a number of different things. If your chest pain is new, severe, and lasts for several minutes, it’s best to go to the ER, according to the Mayo Clinic. While there, a medical professional can check you out and determine the underlying cause. Even if you’re not having a heart attack, you won’t regret getting some peace of mind, or possible treatment for other health issues.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Aggarwal R, Yeh RW, Joynt Maddox KE, Wadhera RK. Cardiovascular Risk Factor Prevalence, Treatment, and Control in US Adults Aged 20 to 44 Years, 2009 to March 2020. JAMA. 2023;329(11):899–909. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.2307

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