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Heart Disease Health Center

Heart Attack Symptoms: What To Do in an Emergency

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What To Do When Heart Attack Symptoms Occur

If you or someone you are with experiences chest discomfort or other heart attack symptoms, call 911 right away. Do not wait more than 5 minutes to make the call. While your first impulse may be to drive yourself or the heart attack victim to the hospital, it is better to call 911. Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel can begin treatment on the way to the hospital and are trained to revive a person if his heart stops.

If you witness heart attack symptoms in someone and are unable to reach EMS, drive the person to the hospital. If you are experiencing heart attack symptoms, do not drive yourself to the hospital unless you have no other choice.

Many people delay treatment because they doubt they really are having a heart attack. They don't want to bother or worry their friends and family. But it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Put Time on Your Side

Acting quickly in response to heart attack symptoms can save lives. If given within an hour of the first heart attack symptoms, clot-busting and artery-opening medications can stop a heart attack. Waiting longer than 1-2 hours for treatment can increase damage to the heart and reduce the chances of survival. About half the people who die from heart attacks do so within the first hour after heart attack symptoms begin.

What To Do Before Paramedics Arrive

If you see someone who appears to be having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Then, follow these steps:

  • Try to keep the person calm, and have them sit or lie down.
  • If the person is not allergic to aspirin, have them chew and swallow a baby aspirin (It works faster when chewed and not swallowed whole).
  • If the person stops breathing, you or someone else who is qualified should perform CPR immediately. If you don't know CPR, the 911 operator can assist you until the EMS personnel arrive.

Be Prepared

Nobody plans on having a heart attack. It is best to be prepared, just in case. Here are some steps you can take before heart attack symptoms occur:

  • Memorize the list of heart attack symptoms and warning signs; remember that you need to call 911 within 5 minutes of when heart attack symptoms begin.
  • Talk to family and friends about the warning signs and the importance of calling 911 immediately.
  • Know your heart disease risk factors and do what you can to reduce them.
  • Create a "heart attack survival plan" that includes information about medicines you are taking, allergies, your doctor's number, and people to contact in case you go to the hospital. Keep this information in your wallet.
  • Arrange in advance to have someone care for dependents in the event of an emergency.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on September 25, 2012
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