What to Do If a Loved One Is Having a Heart Attack
Dr. Omar Batal, Cardiology
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 790,000 Americans have a heart attack each year. A heart attack can happen to anyone at any moment. Dr. Omar Batal, cardiologist at IU Health West Hospital, provides steps to take if you believe your loved one is having a heart attack.
Symptoms are usually more-than-mild (moderate or severe) chest pain, or discomfort in the middle of the chest that is unprovoked (sudden onset) and lasts more than 15 minutes (or if it resolves, comes back with activity). Sometimes symptoms can be tricky and perceived as chest burning, arm pain, throat pain or back pain, but would be sudden in onset and outside of a person’s comfort level.
First and foremost, dial 9-1-1. Do not drive your loved one to the hospital if they are experiencing symptoms or discomfort. It is important to begin treatment right away, and emergency responders can begin treating your loved one in the ambulance. Stay on the line with the dispatcher and wait for their instructions until the ambulance arrives. While your initial reaction might be to physically try and help them, it’s important to understand that you are helping your loved one by getting them medical attention as soon as possible.
If you know your loved one is not allergic to aspirin, give them one aspirin (325 mg) to swallow or chew. Aspirin helps to prevent blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack. When someone is having a heart attack, the aspirin works to keep their blood flowing. Have your loved one chew the aspirin to speed up the effects.
If your loved one is unconscious, the 9-1-1 dispatcher may advise you to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until help arrives. The American Heart Association recommends performing chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. While performing CPR, you can time compressions to the tempo of the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Consider participating in a CPR training workshop – you never know when you’ll need to use it.
Aside from knowing what you can do if your loved one is having a heart attack, it’s just as important to be familiar with the signs of a heart attack. The most common symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headedness, pain in the jaw, neck, or back, and pain in the arms or shoulders.