What Should I Do If I'm Having A Heart Attack? Symptoms, Types and Treatment
Important Information You Should Know
If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, get medical help right away! Call 911 and follow the instructions the dispatcher gives you. Do not drive yourself to the hospital!
DO NOT WAIT to call for help! Call 911 even if you are not sure you are having a heart attack. The best time to treat a heart attack is as soon as possible after symptoms begin.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Symptoms of a heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction or MI) include:
➜ Angina: Chest pain or discomfort in the center of the chest for more than a few minutes. It can also go away and come back again. This can also feel like heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or a squeezing feeling. This feeling can be similar to indigestion or heartburn.
➜ Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body. You may have pain in your arm(s), left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
➜ Trouble breathing or feeling short of breath.
➜ Sweating or "cold sweat".
➜ Feeling full. This can feel like indigestion/heartburn. You may feel like you’re choking.
➜ Nausea or vomiting.
➜ Feeling light-headed, dizzy, very weak or anxious.
➜ A fast or irregular heartbeat.
Women Can Have Different Symptoms
Frequently, a heart attack feels different for women than it does for men. Although most women have chest pain with a heart attack, some do not. Women are a bit more likely to have unusual symptoms different from the typical chest pain.
Please see below for a list of common heart attack symptoms in women.
Common heart attack symptoms in women are:
➜ Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest.
➜ Being unusually tired for several days.
➜ Pain or discomfort in the upper body. Women often feel pain in their arms, back, jaw, neck or stomach.
➜ Pain that spreads to the arm.
➜ Feeling short of breath.
➜ Nausea and vomiting.
➜ Cold sweat.
➜ Feeling light-headed.
The symptoms can be mild to severe, and usually last 30 to 120 minutes.
Sometimes women do not get fast treatment because they think the symptoms are signs of muscle, gastrointestinal or emotional problems.
Women can protect themselves by learning the common symptoms of female heart disease. It is also a good idea to have a physical exam with a heart disease screening. If you have persisting symptoms, a consultation with a cardiologist can be helpful.
It is possible to have a heart attack without having any symptoms. This is called a silent MI, or silent infarction.
If You Take Nitroglycerin
If you have been prescribed nitroglycerin and experience angina, stop what you are doing and rest. Take one nitroglycerin tablet and let it dissolve under your tongue. If you have the spray form, spray it under your tongue and wait five minutes. If you still have angina after five minutes, call 911.
If you have chronic stable angina and experience symptoms, take one nitroglycerin tablet and let it dissolve under your tongue. Wait five minutes. If you still have symptoms, take another tablet. You can take up to three tablets (one every five minutes, for 15 minutes). If you still have angina after three doses, call 911.
The 911 dispatcher may tell you to slowly chew an aspirin (325 mg), if you are not allergic to aspirin and do not have problems with bleeding. Aspirin works best if it is taken within 30 minutes after the symptoms start. Do NOT take an aspirin for symptoms of stroke. Continue to take your nitroglycerin as prescribed.
Once Help Arrives
When the paramedics arrive, they will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history. They will do tests, including:
➜ Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG): A recording of your heart rate, rhythm and electrical activity. This test helps determine which part of your heart is affected and how bad the damage is.
➜ Blood tests: These tests can show if you have had a heart attack and how severe it is.
➜ X-ray or echocardiogram: These tests create pictures of the inside of your heart. They can show if you are having a heart attack or the cause of your chest pain.
You will get oxygen and, maybe, medication. You will be taken to the hospital. Once there, you may need more tests and treatment.
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