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What a Heart Attack or Stroke Feels Like

We’ve seen plenty of heart attacks on TV and in the movies — characters clutching their chests and collapsing in agony right in the middle of a key plot moment. But heart attacks and strokes don’t always announce themselves in such dramatic fashion: They can have a variety of symptoms, and can often be mistaken for something as simple as fatigue or a severe cold. And that’s part of what makes them so dangerous. In fact, a recent study found that heart attacks are six times more likely within a week after the patient has been diagnosed with the flu.

No doctor can tell you what a heart attack or stroke feels like quite as well as someone who’s actually suffered one. In this feature from AARP and the American Heart Association (AHA), heart patients recall, in their own words, what it’s like to suffer a cardiac event. Here, heart attack and stroke survivors describe how they felt when they experienced their symptoms.

Illustration of man and truck

American Heart Association

Imagine a 40-ton eighteen wheeler sitting on your chest to get a sense of what a heart attack victim feels.

Illustration of a woman in bed

American Heart Association

Heart attacks and strokes can often be mistaken for something as simple as fatigue, a severe cold or flu.

Illustration of man and bowling balls

American Heart Association

Ever try carrying two bowling balls around the alley at the same time? A heart attack or stroke could make your arms feel like you are.

Illustration of man and lights

American Heart Association

Heart attack and stroke victims sometimes experience changes in vision.

For more animated heart attack symptoms, go to the AHA.

To mark American Heart Month, AARP produced this article in collaboration with the American Heart Association, along with more articles, videos and quizzes available at To receive essential heart-health tips every day in February, download the AARP app or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. To stay up to date on the latest heart news all year long, check out the AHA's website,