A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack.
The average person waits 3 hours before seeking help for symptoms of a heart attack. Many heart attack patients die before they reach a hospital. The sooner the person gets to the emergency room, the better the chance of survival. Prompt medical treatment reduces the amount of heart damage.
This article discusses what to do if you think someone may be having a heart attack.
For more information on the condition itself, see: Heart attack.
First aid - heart attack; First aid - cardiopulmonary arrest; First aid - cardiac arrest
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that carries oxygen to the heart is blocked. The heart muscle becomes starved for oxygen and begins to die. See: Heart attack
Symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. They may be mild or severe. Women, the elderly, and people with diabetes are more likely to have subtle or unusual symptoms.
Symptoms in adults may include:
Changes in mental status, particularly in the elderly
Chest pain that feels like pressure, squeezing, or fullness: The pain is usually in the center of the chest. It may also be felt in the jaw, shoulder, arms, back, and stomach. It lasts for more than a few minutes, or it may come and go.
Nausea (more common in women)
Numbness, aching, or tingling in the arm (usually the left arm)
Get regular exercise to improve heart health. (Talk to your doctor before starting any new fitness program.)
Eat a heart-healthy diet. Limit saturated fats, red meat, and sugars. Increase your intake of chicken, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Your health care provider can help you tailor a diet specific to your needs.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. One drink a day is associated with reducing the rate of heart attacks, but two or more drinks a day can damage the heart and cause other medical problems.
Hollander JE. Acute coronary syndromes. Acute myocardial infarction and unstable angina. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 50.
Anderson JL, Adams CD, Antman EM, Bridges CR, Califf RM, Casey DE Jr., et al. ACC/AHA 2007 guidelines for the management of patients with unstable angina/non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 2002 Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Unstable Angina/Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) developed in collaboration with the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons endorsed by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007;50:e1-e157.
Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group, Hunterdon Medical Centers, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.