What should I do if I have warning signs of a heart attack?

Print this page and post copies of it on your refrigerator, in your office, and in other places where you spend a lot of time.

If you think you are having a heart attack, do the following.

  • Sit or lie down.
  • Call for emergency help at once. In most areas, calling 911 contacts emergency medical responders. They are trained in cardiac life support. Don't waste time calling your own doctor or a friend or family member. Fill in the correct numbers below.
    • Local emergency number - check to see if your area has 911:_
    • Closest 24-hour medical facility that can treat heart emergencies:
  • Describe your symptoms briefly and clearly. For instance, tell the emergency dispatcher, "I'm having severe chest pain and trouble breathing."
  • If your doctor has prescribed nitroglycerin tablets, take them as directed. You can usually take one pill at a time every 5 minutes until the pain has stopped or you have taken three pills. In the meantime, call 911! Never take nitroglycerin without a doctor's prescription.
  • Chew and swallow aspirin - as long as you are not allergic to it. Aspirin makes your platelets less sticky. This inhibits blood clotting and helps keep blood flowing through narrowed arteries. Chewing an aspirin during a heart attack can decrease the risk of dying by 25%.

If you're unconscious and you have no pulse, someone should begin administering CPR after calling for help. It's a good idea for anyone with heart problems to ask that family members or caregivers be trained in CPR. If you are with someone else who is having heart attack symptoms and is unconscious and has no pulse, begin CPR. Have the 911 dispatcher instruct you if you haven't been trained.

More Great Stuff

Time is extremely important in responding to a heart attack. Each minute that an area of the heart is deprived of blood and oxygen, more tissue is damaged or dies. If the blockage of blood and oxygen lasts only a short time and blood flow to the heart is restored, damage may be prevented. Medicines called thrombolytics are sometimes given shortly after the onset of a heart attack. They can reopen blocked arteries, restore blood flow, and prevent permanent damage to the heart.

The key is to be prepared. Know how to respond if you have symptoms, and get help quickly. Talk with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members about your heart condition so they can be prepared. Don't wait until after you have a heart attack to talk with them. Familiarize them with the warning signs of heart attack. Also let them know what medicines you take and where you keep them. Prompt action can prevent serious damage to your heart and possibly save your life.

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