911 Basics: Responding to a Heart Attack
Chest pain could be simple indigestion or symptoms of heart attack. Knowing what the heart attack warning signs are and how to respond could save a life.
"Heart attacks sometimes mimic simple health conditions, such as indigestion, so it's important to know the difference between these and other conditions," says Mark G. Perlroth, M.D., professor of medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
The following guidelines can help you make the right decisions and take the right steps when seconds count.
Simple causes of chest pain
Any of these conditions can cause chest pain:
Indigestion usually is accompanied by burping, belching, heartburn, nausea, and a sour taste in the mouth.
A panic attack usually is accompanied by heart palpitations, shortness of breath and anxiety.
Chest-wall or muscle pain from exercise or injury can be made worse when the sore area is pressed with a finger.
The breathing pain of respiratory infections often can be made worse by coughing and deep breathing.
It is important to know that any of these symptoms also can be present with a heart attack. Do not assume that you are just having indigestion or a panic attack. Get medical help right away.
Heart attack symptoms
The following signs are heart attack symptoms. Not all of these warning signs occur in every heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms occur:
Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, back, and arms.
Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath.
Marked apprehension or sense of impending doom.
Be prepared : Heart Attack action plan
Take the following emergency actions ahead of time if you or a family member has a heart condition or is at risk of a heart attack:
Know which hospitals in your area provide 24-hour emergency cardiac care. Tell family and friends where they are.
Post emergency rescue numbers on each of your phones.
Advise family and friends to call for emergency care if chest pain lasts more than a few minutes.
What to do
If you suspect someone you're with is having a heart attack:
Call 911 or your local access number for emergency medical service. Tell the dispatcher where you are and that someone is having a heart attack. Don't hang up until you're told to do so.
While waiting for emergency help to arrive:
Help the victim get into a relaxed sitting position, with the legs up and bent at the knees, to ease strain on the heart.
"Loosen tight clothing around the neck and waist, and be calm and reassuring that medical help is on the way," says Dr. Perlroth.