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If you have several of the symptoms listed below, call 911 immediately. Every minute you delay puts you at greater risk of heart damage. While you're waiting for the ambulance to arrive, chew and swallow, without water, a regular, full-strength aspirin tablet to help prevent blood clotting (yes, it tastes bitter, but the aspirin will get into your system faster this way).
Once you get to the hospital, don't underplay your symptoms: Tell the doctors you think you may be having a heart attack and need a thorough evaluation, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a blood test to check cardiac enzymes. It's crucial to have both tests, because an EKG alone can miss 60 percent of heart attacks.
Classic symptoms (more common in men, but can also affect women):
Atypical symptoms (more common in women, but can also strike men):
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, February 2004.