Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of a Possible Heart Attack

  • Call 9-1-1. Tell the operator "I think I'm having a heart attack."
  • Chew one adult strength aspirin or four baby aspirin. Keep several supplies in areas where you spend the most time.
  • Unlock your front door. Get into a position of comfort by the door.
  • Have an information packet readily available for the paramedics such as a wallet card with your medical history and current medications.

What should I have in my information packet?

  • Driver's license or photo ID (or photocopy)
  • Health insurance cards (or photocopies) and an insurance contact phone number
  • Copy of your living will or advance directive
  • List of all medications, vitamins and supplements you are currently taking. Include dosages and frequency.
  • Short descriptions of all current medical conditions or chronic illnesses.
  • A list of allergies and chemical intolerances.
  • Phone numbers (with area codes) of your family doctor, local pharmacy and specialists.
  • Phone numbers (with area codes) of relatives or family friends who may be contacted.

Signs and symptoms of a possible heart attack

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomforts.
  • Other signs: These may include sudden cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Why call 9-1-1 instead of driving yourself to the hospital?

Time lost is heart muscle lost. You will delay your treatment if you drive yourself to the hospital. The paramedics can begin treatment as quickly as possible once they reach you. They will also notify the hospital that you are coming. The hospital can then alert the interventional cardiologists and other heart attack team members so they are ready if you need a procedure such as balloon angioplasty or stenting.

Cardiac arrest lifesaving tips

When someone suffers cardiac arrest, they lose consciousness and have no pulse because there is no oxygen flowing through the body and to the brain. The best chance of survival is to have someone physically close to the person initiate the following steps.

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest (unconscious, no pulse, not breathing).
  • Call or ask someone else to call 9-1-1.
  • Immediately begin CPR. Place your hands in the center of the person's chest; push down at least two inches. Continue this process until help arrives or someone else can take over. 100 compressions per minute is ideal.
  • Ask anyone nearby to bring an automated external defibrillator (AED). These are available in many public locations and businesses. Initiate defibrillation.

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