911 basics: responding to a heart attack

Dale Michels Center for Heart Care
Emergency Sign

Written by: St. Agnes Hospital Emergency Department

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Knowing what the warning signs of a heart attack are and how to respond could save a life.

The following guidelines can help you make the right decisions and take the right steps when seconds count.

Heart attack symptoms

The following may be symptoms of a heart attack. Not all of these warning signs occur in every attack. Seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, back and arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
  • Marked apprehension or sense of impending doom.
There are other causes of chest pain besides a heart attack. However, do not assume that you are just having indigestion or a panic attack. Get medical help right away.

What to do

If you suspect you or someone you’re with is having a heart attack:

  • Call 911. Tell the dispatcher where you are and that someone is having a heart attack. Don’t hang up until you’re told to do so.
While waiting for emergency help to arrive

Get yourself or the victim into a relaxed sitting position, with the legs up and bent at the knees, to ease strain on the heart.

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