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Heart attack: First aid

Call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Chest pain that may feel like pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing or aching.
  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth or sometimes the upper belly.
  • Cold sweats.
  • Fatigue.
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.

A heart attack usually causes chest pain for more than 15 minutes. The chest pain may be mild or severe. Some people don't have any chest pain or pressure. Women tend to have more-vague symptoms, such as nausea or a brief or sharp pain felt in the neck, arm or back.

Some heart attacks strike suddenly. But many people have warning signs hours or days in advance.

What to do if you or someone else may be having a heart attack

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number. Don't ignore the symptoms of a heart attack. If you can't get an ambulance or emergency vehicle to come to you, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only if you have no other option.
  • Take aspirin, if recommended. Aspirin helps prevent blood clotting. Taking aspirin during a heart attack may reduce heart damage. Don't take an aspirin unless a healthcare professional says to do so. Don't delay calling 911 to take an aspirin. Call for emergency help first.
  • Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. If you think you're having a heart attack and have a prescription for this medicine, take it as directed while waiting for emergency medical help.
  • Start CPR if the person doesn't have a pulse or isn't breathing. If you're untrained in CPR, do hands-only CPR. That means push hard and fast on the person's chest. Do this about 100 to 120 times a minute. If you're trained in CPR and confident in your ability, start with 30 chest compressions before giving two rescue breaths.
  • Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is immediately available and the person is unconscious. The device delivers shocks to reset the heart rhythm. AEDs come with step-by-step voice instructions for their use. They're programmed to allow a shock only when appropriate.

Content Last Updated: 13-Feb-2024
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