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911 Basics: Responding to a Heart Attack

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States. 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

The following 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. 

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.

  • You should not drive, or let someone else who is having symptoms drive, to the hospital. 

While waiting for emergency help to arrive

  • Make sure the door to your home is unlocked.

  • Make sure you have a phone with you.

  • Chew and swallow 1 adult (325 mg) or 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin:

    • Do not take aspirin if you are allergic to it.

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 4/21/2014
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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