Knowing how and when to react to heart attack symptoms can save your life.
What would you do if you or someone near you started experiencing heart attack symptoms? What you should do is call 911 for an ambulance.
“If you think you may be having a heart attack, the last thing you want to do is get in a car,” says Daniel Edmundowicz, MD, a professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. “Calling 911 is like bringing a mobile emergency room to you. Emergency caregivers can start to diagnose you right away.”
A study out of Turkey, presented at in 2012 at a European conference on cardiac care, found that people who experience heart attack symptoms and call for an ambulance save time and increase their chances of recovery. For one, emergency services can bypass local hospitals and take you directly to a medical center prepared to treat you immediately.
But how would you know if you were having a heart attack at all?
Recognizing Heart Attack Symptoms
“The first thing you need to know is if you are at risk,” says Dr. Edmundowicz. “Risk factors include older age, having a family history of heart attack, having high cholesterol, being a smoker, having high blood pressure, having diabetes, and not being physically active.”
Here are some symptoms to watch for:
Chest discomfort that is unexpected and unrelenting
Pressure that feels like someone is sitting on your chest
Nausea and sweating
Shortness of breath with minimal exertion
Chest pain with minimal exertion
“Women may have all the same symptoms as men, but they are more likely to have atypical symptoms heart attack symptoms, like breathlessness, without chest pain or abdominal pain instead of chest pain,” Edmundowicz adds.
What to Do While You Wait for the Ambulance
The usual cause of a heart attack is a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances inside one or more of the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This buildup, called plaque, can break away, causing a blood clot to start forming at the site. It’s the blood clot that blocks blood flow. During a heart attack, your heart muscle is deprived of blood, and that’s why time is so important.
While you wait for the ambulance, aspirin can help. “It makes sense to take a 325-milligram aspirin or four baby aspirins,” says Edmundowicz. “Don’t try to move around, and make sure you have plenty of air.”
Three steps, then, are critical if you or someone near you starts having heart attack symptoms: Call 911 to get an ambulance, take aspirin, and wait for the emergency room to arrive at your front door.