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911 Basics: Responding to a Heart Attack

Heart disease is the leading killer in the U.S. Knowing the warning signs of a heart attack and how to respond could save a life. The following guidelines can help you make the right decisions and take the right steps when seconds count.

Heart attack symptoms

These may be symptoms of a heart attack. Not all of these warning signs occur in every attack. Seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back

  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, back, and arms

  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath

  • Feeling very anxious or very tired

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Men and women may have different symptoms. Women are somewhat more likely than men to have some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Be prepared

Take the following emergency actions ahead of time if you or a family member has a heart condition or is at risk of a heart attack:

  • Know which hospitals in your area provide 24-hour emergency heart care. Tell family and friends where they are.

  • Keep emergency rescue phone numbers near your phone or save them on your cell phone. 

  • Tell family and friends to call 911 or your local number for emergencies if chest pain lasts more than a few minutes.

There are other causes of chest pain besides a heart attack. However, you should get medical help if you or someone else have the heart attack symptoms described above. 

What to do

If you suspect someone is having a heart attack:

  • Call 911 or your local number for emergencies. Tell the person who answers where you are and that someone is having a heart attack. Don't hang up until you're told to do so.

  • Don't let someone who is having symptoms drive themselves to the hospital. If you are having symptoms, don't drive yourself.

While waiting for emergency help to arrive

  • Make sure the door to your home is unlocked.

  • Make sure you have a phone with you.

  • You may be directed to chew and swallow 1 adult (325 mg) or 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin:

    • Do not take aspirin if you are allergic to it, have a known history of bleeding problems, or other reasons for not taking aspirin

  • Sit in a comfortable chair and wait for help to arrive. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Ayden, Scott, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Snyder, Mandy, APRN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2017
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