Each year, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack – averaging out to about 1 every 40 seconds.
A heart attack is caused by a blockage or spasm of a coronary artery. It’s essentially a plumbing issue with the heart. This interrupted blood flow causes the heart muscle to die.
Heart attacks are the leading cause of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). While they can be fatal, immediate treatment can dramatically increase the chances of survival.
Here’s how to recognize signs of a heart attack and how you should respond.
Sign and Symptoms of a Heart Attack
The signs of a heart attack usually occur suddenly. However, they may come and go or appear with any combination of symptoms.
Heart attack signs include:
- Chest pain, discomfort or pressure
- Radiating discomfort to your arms, neck, back, jaw or abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Pale, cool, sweaty skin
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained fatigue
Be aware that women, people with diabetes, and older adults may not experience typical symptoms like chest discomfort or shortness of breath. They may report feeling jaw pain, shortness of breath, fatigue or nausea and vomiting instead.
Responding to a Heart Attack
Don’t delay calling 911 if you suspect a heart attack. The first few minutes are the most critical.
- Call 911. Don’t transport the person to the hospital yourself.
- Place the person in a comfortable position. This will usually be a sitting position. Help loosen clothing to make the person more comfortable and continue to calmly reassure the person.
- Help the person take any prescribed chest pain medication. For example, they may have been prescribed nitroglycerin.
- Offer 1 adult or 2 baby aspirins to chew. Make sure the person is alert enough to chew and swallow the aspirin. Do not offer aspirin if the person is showing signs of a stroke, has any known aspirin allergy, or has experienced recent bleeding.
A heart attack can quickly progress to SCA. Be prepared to give the person CPR and use an AED if you have access to one.
Interested in learning how to respond to other emergencies? Take a CPR, AED and First Aid class near you.