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Health Information Library First Aid Heart attack: First aid

Heart attack: First aid

Call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack. Someone having a heart attack may have any or all of the following:

  • Chest pain, pressure or tightness, or a squeezing or aching sensation in the center of the chest
  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth or occasionally upper abdomen
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting
  • Sweating

A heart attack generally causes chest pain for more than 15 minutes. Some people have mild chest pain, while others have more-severe pain. The discomfort is commonly described as a pressure or chest heaviness, although some people have no chest pain or pressure at all. Women tend to have more-vague symptoms, such as nausea or back or jaw pain.

Some heart attacks strike suddenly, but many people have warning signs hours or days in advance.

What to do if you or someone else may be having a heart attack

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number. Don't ignore the symptoms of a heart attack. If you can't get an ambulance or emergency vehicle to come to you, have a neighbor or a friend drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only if you have no other option. Because your condition can worsen, driving yourself puts you and others at risk.
  • Chew and swallow an aspirin while waiting for emergency help. Aspirin helps keep your blood from clotting. When taken during a heart attack, it could reduce heart damage. Don't take aspirin if you are allergic to it or have been told by your doctor never to take aspirin.
  • Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. If you think you're having a heart attack and your doctor has previously prescribed nitroglycerin for you, take it as directed while waiting for emergency medical help.
  • Begin CPR if the person is unconscious. If the person isn't breathing or you don't find a pulse, begin CPR to keep blood flowing after you call for emergency medical help.

    Push hard and fast on the center of the person's chest in a fairly rapid rhythm — about 100 to 120 compressions a minute.

  • If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is immediately available and the person is unconscious, follow the device instructions for using it.
Last Updated: February 11th, 2021