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Heart Attack: What to Expect in the Emergency Room

If you or someone you love requires emergency heart treatment, it will help to know when to get to the emergency room and what to expect. It's also important to know how to be prepared in the event of a heart attack.

When to Go to the Emergency Room for a Heart Attack

For many people, knowing when to seek emergency care isn't always clear. Most people know to call 911 right away when faced with a life-threatening situation, such as loss of consciousness, breathing trouble, or serious trauma. But heart attack symptoms aren't always as clear-cut. It may be hard to tell if the symptoms are a result of a heart crisis or heartburn, for example.

Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you feel it is an emergency, call 911 and ask them to send an ambulance right away. 

Emergency medical services personnel can start caring for you or your loved one immediately, and they will alert the emergency room to let them know you are coming.

These heart attack symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room:

  • Chest discomfort that feels like pressure, fullness, or a squeezing pain in the center or left side of your chest. It lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain and discomfort that extends beyond your chest to other parts of your upper body, such as one or both arms, back, neck, stomach, and jaw
  • Unexplained shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Any of the symptoms listed above that are accompanied by a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, anxiety, or indigestion


Be Prepared Before a Trip to the Emergency Room

You never know when you may need to go to the emergency room, so it's best to be prepared. Here are some steps you can take today to make any visit to the emergency room more efficient:

Create a file -- and update it regularly -- that includes:

  • Information on any chronic health conditions you have
  • Results of past medical tests
  • A list of your allergies
  • A current list of medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements you are taking
  • The names and numbers of your doctors, family, and friends who may need to be contacted

Keep this file in a place where you can find it quickly.

Check your health insurance to find out which hospital emergency rooms are covered under your plan, and keep a list of their names, addresses, and phone numbers. But if you think you are having a heart attack, call 911. Do not drive yourself, and do not have someone else drive you.

What to Bring to the Emergency Room

  • Take your file with all your health information.
  • Bring your insurance card.
  • If time allows, have a loved one notify your doctor.
  • Bring paper and pen to document the treatment you or a loved one receives.


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