Heart attack and cardiac arrest: emergency treatment
How do you recognise the symptoms of a heart attack?
The symptoms of a heart attack may be quite mild and many people take too long to realise they need help.
The most common symptoms are a feeling of heavy pressure or tightness, crushing pain or unusual discomfort in the centre of the chest, or a feeling like indigestion. Pain or tightness may spread to the shoulders, neck or arms, or it may affect the jaws or throat, making the person feel like they're choking. Some people don't get chest discomfort, but only get symptoms in their arms or throat. Others don't get pains in their arms, but their arms feel heavy or useless.
The symptoms would usually last for more than 15 minutes. They may stop, or get less and then return. The person may sweat, feel sick, faint or be short of breath.
Many people having a heart attack won't admit they are in trouble, or they think it's not serious.
What should you do?
- Call an ambulance: dial 000.
- Make sure the person is resting quietly, sitting or lying down.
- Get them to take half an aspirin immediately (unless they are allergic to it).
- If breathless, get them to sit up.
- If they feel faint, get them to lie flat.
- If, for some reason, an ambulance can't get there quickly enough, drive the person to hospital right away. Do not let the person drive themself.
If you feel these symptoms yourself, or see the first signs of someone else suffering from them, don't wait. Medical help is most important in the first few hours. Prompt medical attention can help reduce the amount of heart muscle damage and can help improve the person's chances of survival.
How do you know when someone has had a cardiac arrest?
- The person is unconscious.
- Their heart has stopped beating.
- They stop breathing.
- Their skin turns pale or blue.
- You feel no pulse.
What should you do?
- Call an ambulance: dial 000 and tell the emergency services that someone has had a cardiac arrest.
- Act fast: get someone to call for skilled help. A person who has had a cardiac arrest won't survive unless the blood starts pumping and the body gets a supply of oxygen very quickly.
- Start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). CPR involves mouth-to-mouth breathing and external heart massage through the chest (chest compressions).
Last Reviewed: 14 April 2010
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