How to Recognize Symptoms of a Heart Attack — and Take Action
If you know what to watch for, you can help — and maybe save the life of — someone having a heart attack.
- Chest pain or discomfort — which Bhatt describes as “classically left-sided and pressure-like, that is, the feeling that an elephant is sitting on your chest.” Another term people use to describe this feeling is “squeezing.”
- Pain moving down the left arm
- Pain moving up to the left side of the jaw
- Pain or discomfort in your back or stomach
- Nausea or throwing up
- Shortness of breath
- Chew aspirin. “Chew a 325-milligram tablet of aspirin,” advises Bhatt. Chewing the aspirin gets it into your system faster than just swallowing it. Aspirin helps reduce the clotting of your blood — but this does not treat the heart attack. Even if your symptoms ease up, you still should go to an emergency room.
- Take nitroglycerin. If your doctor has already prescribed a nitroglycerin medication, it should be taken now. Do not take someone else’s nitro, however.
- Call 911 immediately. Treatment for heart attack works best within one hour, and the clock starts ticking with the first symptoms. Since paramedics can usually begin treatment, such as doing an EKG and starting an intravenous line, you should take always take an ambulance to the hospital. Remember to tell the 911 operator exactly where you are — and then stay on the line.
- Start CPR. If a person with symptoms of a heart attack stops breathing and loses consciousness, his heart may have stopped beating. If this happens, you will not be able to feel a pulse, and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) needs to be started immediately. Shout for someone to call 911, if you haven’t already, and then:
- Do hands-only CPR: Using both hands placed over one another, rapidly and evenly push up and down on the center of the person’s chest. Aim for 100 pushes a minute. Starting CPR doubles the chance that a person in cardiac arrest will survive — and recent studies show that the more compressions, or pushes, you do on the chest of someone whose heart has stopped, the greater the likelihood they will survive.
- Don't worry about or do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
- If you don’t know how to do CPR, ask for help from others around you.
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