How to Survive a Heart Attack

You have gone through thousands of worst case scenarios over and over in your mind. But do you know the symptoms of a heart attack? Do you know what to do if you are having one? What about if you are alone? Do you know your risk factors for heart disease...


In order to get the help you need you must be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.  You should know what to do if you think you are experiencing a heart attack. You should also know your risk factors for cardiac disease, including heart attacks, and work on a prevention strategy.   

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms

Although the classic symptoms of a heart attack are usually easily identified (pain, sweating, shortness of breath); other more subtle signs may not be.  Unfortunately, the more vague symptoms are often ignored.  This can be a fatal mistake.  Additionally, not all symptoms are immediate; they can take weeks to develop.  Nor do all myocardial infarctions cause cardiac arrest; but that does not mean that significant cardiac damage has not taken place.

  • Intense, sometimes squeezing, pressure or pain in or around the chest (the most classic symptom) 
  • Profuse sweating
  • Unexplained sudden shortness of breath
  • Intense anxiety
  • Racing Heart
  • Overwhelming sense of fear or impending doom
  • Relatively mild discomfort in the chest, back, abdomen, shoulders, arms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling of “heartburn”/indigestion
  • Sudden cold sweats
  • Lack of energy
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Change in normal behavior or mental status
  • Anyone who has one or more risk factors (listed below) for coronary artery disease needs to pay close attention to any sudden, unusual or unexplained symptoms involving the upper half of the body.


Top Ten Risk Factors for Heart Attacks

According to the American Heart Association the ten leading factors that put you at risk for coronary artery disease or a heart attack are:

  1. Age: Men who are 45 or older and women who are 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.
  2. Gender: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life.
  3. Family history: Those with parents or close relatives with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.
  4. Ethnicity: Heart disease risk is higher among African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans compared to Caucasians.
  5. Smoking: Cigarette smoking increases your risk of developing heart disease by 2-4X
  6. High cholesterol
  7. High blood pressure
  8. Sedentary lifestyle
  9. Excess weight
  10. Diabetes


You Think You are Having a Heart Attack; You are Alone…Now What?

Pull over if you suffer an attack while driving. You may only have seconds before you lose consciousness.  If you experience chest discomfort (or any of the heart attack symptoms listed above) call 911 right away.  Don’t over analyze this; be safe and not sorry or dead.  Never wait more than 5 minutes to make that call. Don’t try to drive to a hospital unless there is literally no other alternative. Then chew an aspirin.  During a heart attack, taking a full dose (325 mg) aspirin can actually save your life.  Make sure you chew it for 30 seconds, and swallow it.  The sooner you take the aspirin, the better your chances.  Aspirin makes blood platelets less likely to stick to each other, assisting blood flow and reducing clots.  Aspirin can save your life as easily as your bullet resistant vest.  Command - buy a bottle for the locker room!  Officers - keep one with you at all times.  You may not ever need it, but someone else may.

Remember, a heart attack is a dynamic event, and early intervention can limit the damage. The paramedics can give you oxygen and medication, and they’ll monitor your blood pressure and heart rhythm to forestall complications as they whisk you away to the emergency room. Paramedics have the equipment and are trained to revive a person if his/her heart stops.  They will also be able to give ER staff in depth information about your condition before you enter the doors.  In the hospital, doctors will take EKGs and blood tests to see if in fact you are having a heart attack.  If you are they will usually try to open the blocked artery with an angioplasty, stent, or with a clot-busting medication.

While you wait for paramedics lie or sit down and rest.  The more exercise or stress you put on the heart, the more damage the heart attack will do.  Don’t panic, try to stay calm.  Hopefully help is on the way.

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