What to do when someone shows signs of a heart attack
Would you know what to do if someone clutched their chest or arm, or complained of shortness of breath?
Unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with how to respond to someone who may be having a heart attack. Panic is the enemy of effective action—and knowing what to do in a crisis situation is the best way to keep your anxiety under control.
The first step in saving someone who is having a heart attack is knowing when to take action. In general, it’s always better to err on the side of caution—getting help early can be the difference between life and death.
Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack
Heart attack symptoms can be complicated. In some cases, there may be few or no symptoms, most notably in individuals with diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, heart attacks don’t always begin with chest pain, and they can occur during times of rest or activity. In addition, heart disease overall isn’t as gender-specific as many may expect—it’s the number-one killer of both men and women.
If you suspect you or someone else is having a heart attack, don’t wait to identify the symptoms; call 911 immediately. These are the common indicators of a heart attack:
Chest discomfort. Feelings of fullness, pressure, or a squeezing pain in the chest that persists for longer than three minutes, or fades in and out.
Shortness of breath. While it’s normal to feel winded after climbing a flight of stairs or engaging in a challenging activity, unexpected shortness of breath should never be dismissed (even if it’s not accompanied other symptoms).
Flu-like symptoms. Lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, fatigue, indigestion, fainting—each are common signals of a heart attack.
Feeling of impending doom. Our subconscious often picks up on more about our bodies than we’re aware of. Heart attack victims often report feeling as if something bad is about to happen.
Abdominal pain. Discomfort in the epigastric, or upper-central region of the abdomen.
Pain and discomfort beyond the chest. Both men and women may report discomfort extending to the arms, back, neck, stomach, teeth, and jaw.
It’s important to remember symptoms are often subtle and vary from person to person. Women, the elderly, and diabetes patients may experience non-classical symptoms of a heart attack. Again, if you think it might be a heart attack, it’s always best to seek help immediately.
If you think someone’s having a heart attack, here’s what to do
Actions taken during the onset of a heart attack are crucial to recovery. Memorizing these steps can help save the life of a loved one, or even your own.
- Call 911. Don’t let yourself be convinced the person just needs to stick it out for a while and see what happens. If you witness any of the symptoms, call for help right away, and stay calm. Also, don’t attempt to drive yourself or a victim to the hospital, unless it’s absolutely necessary—it might end up delaying professional medical treatment.
- Keep the victim calm. Help them sit or lay down, and provide assurance that help is on the way.
- Aspirin. Taking aspirin can help thin the blood, thereby increasing the chances of survival, however, make sure the patient isn’t allergic before administering. Baby aspirin tends to work quicker but regular aspirin is also effective. For faster absorption, aspirin tablets should be chewed before swallowing.
- CPR. If the victim is unconscious and not breathing, CPR should be administered. Be sure to let the 911 dispatcher know if the victim has lost consciousness. If there’s nobody on the scene trained in CPR, the dispatcher will issue instructions. For those without CPR training, doctors advise a chest-compression-only approach of approximately 100-120 compressions per minute.
- Defibrillators. If the person has slipped in sudden cardiac arrest and an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, the device should have instructions on how to use it.
Always be prepared
The best way to save someone from dying from a heart attack is preparation. CPR and AED classes can help you recognize the symptoms, and ensure you know exactly what to do if someone’s heart stops.
One Beat CPR+AED is South Florida’s premiere American Heart Association-certified CPR training center. We offer private, and group classes with affordable pricing. Don’t wait until an emergency to learn what to do, contact us today to schedule your training!