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What to Do If Someone Is Having a Heart Attack


Sunday, July 26th, 2015

Each year, tens of thousands of Americans survive a heart attack, go back to their daily routine, and enjoy normal lives. It is important to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and to act quickly to make sure the person has a better chance of recovering.

It is also important to know that symptoms of a heart attack can differ between men and women, and that not all heart attacks are the same. By learning some basic facts, you can stay safe and help others.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack

Common heart attack symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, stomach, or one or both arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Women can have different symptoms besides the ones listed above, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Pressure or pain in the chest or back

Even if someone has had a heart attack before, their symptoms might be different if they have another. Not all heart attacks are the same, and it’s always best to be safe and call 9-1-1.

What to Do During a Heart Attack

If you think someone is having a heart attack, do not wait until more symptoms appear. A heart attack is a medical emergency, and can be deadly. The sooner a person gets treatment, the better chance they have at survival and recovery.

  • Call 9-1-1 right away. Don’t ignore or try to tough out the symptoms of a heart attack. Paramedics are trained to treat people on the way to the hospital and offer the fastest way to get there.
  • Chew and swallow aspirin. If able, have the person chew and swallow aspirin while waiting for the paramedics, unless they are allergic or have another medical condition that makes taking aspirin dangerous. Most doctors recommend one 325 mg aspirin tablet for maximum effect. Aspirin can help lower the heart’s workload and make blood flow better. If you are prescribed nitroglycerin, take one and chew and swallow it.
  • Have the person sit down, rest, and keep calm. Less strain on the heart will allow them to recover faster.
  • Begin CPR. If the person is unconscious or unresponsive, you may be told by the 9-1-1 dispatcher to begin CPR. If you do not know how to give CPR, the dispatcher should be able to give you the correct steps to follow until help arrives.
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Heart and Vascular Institute

As a recognized leader in cardiovascular care — with a rich history in clinical research and innovation — the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers a full spectrum of personalized cardiovascular services. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the United States, UPMC has made significant contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine. Read More