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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Attack: What to Expect in the Emergency Room

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.

What to Expect When You Arrive at the Emergency Room

Emergency rooms operate on a triage basis. This means that they treat the most serious illnesses first. If you arrive with symptoms of a heart attack, they will see you quickly. Doctors will work to confirm your diagnosis, relieve your symptoms, and treat the problem. Depending upon your symptoms, you may have one or more of the following:

  • Medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) to diagnose a heart attack

  • Electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring to screen for abnormal heart rhythms, called arrhythmias
  • Blood tests to confirm a heart attack
  • Medications, such as nitroglycerin, aspirin, and clot-busting drugs
  • Oxygen
  • Cardiac catheterization, which involves threading a flexible tube into the heart from a blood vessel in the wrist or groin to open a blocked artery

Be prepared to answer a lot of questions at the emergency room, including questions about:

  • The pain you experienced
  • Past and current health problems, including past history of heart disease
  • Risk factors
  • Lifestyle habits, including the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and recreational drugs
  • Current medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
  • Dietary and herbal supplements
  • Any allergies you have, especially allergies to medications

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