What should I do if I think I'm having a heart attack?

If you think you are having a heart attack, the first thing you must do is dial 911. Do not drive yourself to a hospital. Don’t have someone else drive you. Heart attacks can suddenly cause irregular heartbeats that may cause your heart to stop. EMS is prepared to treat these arrhythmias. All it takes is an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)—a simple painless test—to find out if you’re having a heart attack. You can get one in the ambulance on your way to the hospital, thereby beginning heart attack diagnosis and treatment before you even reach the hospital. It’s a very effective way to reduce the time it takes to get you the treatment you need. While you wait for the ambulance to arrive, chew one uncoated aspirin to reduce your body’s ability to form blood clots.

You should call 9-1-1 for potential heart attacks so the emergency crew can get treatment started immediately and take you to the proper facilities.

If you experience sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, pain in your arm or jaw, or sudden and concerning discomfort, get to an emergency room as quickly as possible.

Do not wait to see if your symptoms improve. Interventional cardiologists—cardiologists who specialize in using thin, flexible tubes to perform cardiovascular procedures—have made huge strides in recent decades in saving the lives of heart attack victims, but a patient’s odds of survival are still affected by how quickly treatment is received.

Emergency room doctors can evaluate you to see if you are having a heart attack. If they find you are not having a heart attack, there is no reason for embarrassment. Heart disease is the leading killer of adults in the United States and in many other parts of the world—and any concern about whether you are having one is a worthy one.

If you feel pressure, discomfort or pain in the center of your chest or that spreads to your arm, neck or jaw, or a crushing or squeezing sensation with shortness of breath, tiredness or upset stomach, you could be experiencing a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately. After you call 9-1-1, the operator may recommend that you chew one adult-strength (325 mg) aspirin after he or she makes sure you don't have an allergy to aspirin or a condition that may make taking it too risky. If the operator doesn’t talk to you about chewing an aspirin, the emergency medical technicians or physicians at the hospital will give you one if it's right for you.

Is it heartburn? A pulled muscle? Fatigue? Just what is that pain and what does it mean? It’s important for women to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Even more importantly, don’t wait for the pain to pass. Seek help. Women may experience the full gamut of symptoms or only one or two, so the only way to know for sure if you’ve had a heart attack is to be examined by a physician and undergo testing, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG).

If you think you’re having a heart attack, seek help immediately and call 911. Don’t take a chance and try driving yourself to a hospital, since you run the risk of losing consciousness. Tell the 911 operator and the paramedics that you are experiencing heart attack symptoms. Don’t be afraid to be firm. A 2009 Penn Medicine study showed that there are definite gender disparities in pre-hospital care and that women with chest pain are less likely than men to receive proper treatment from paramedics. Once at the hospital, make sure you get an ECG and/or blood enzyme test to confirm if you are having a heart attack.

The best thing to do if you think you are having a heart attack is to stop what you are doing and call 911. It is very important to get healthcare assistance as soon as possible. Many people have died trying to get to the hospital while they are driving or a loved one is driving them to the hospital. The best thing to do is call 911 and have Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel come to your home or the place that you are at, hook you to a monitor, give you appropriate treatment and then bring you with lifesaving equipment to the hospital. The other thing you should do is go to the nearest hospital possible. At Frankfort Regional, doctors do balloon angioplasty and stenting for heart attack victims, and if you can get to a hospital that has this, then that would be very beneficial. However, the best thing is to get to the nearest hospital, where they can stabilize you, and if needed, transfer you to a facility that can do percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and/or stenting.

Dr. Richard T. Leshner, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you think you are having a heart attack but are not sure, call 911 and come to the emergency room (ER). People who have a heart attack and come to the ER by ambulance have much better survival and outcomes. Doctors are able to get to them more quickly. Plus, you don’t want to be driving to the hospital when you’re having a heart attack.

Some people drop dead from their heart attack. Other people come to the ER thinking they’re having a heart attack and it’s indigestion. The only way you can know is for skilled people to look at you, and to have tests done to make that diagnosis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.