Someone in the U.S. suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds, but a quick emergency response can help save lives.
DaMarcus Baymon, MD, a Mass General Brigham emergency medicine doctor, explains what to do if you think someone is having a heart attack. Dr. Baymon cares for patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital main campus and Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital.
If you think someone is showing signs of a heart attack, call 911 right away.
“Many heart attacks are very recognizable from their symptoms, but in fact, nearly half of people who have a heart attack don’t realize it at the time,” says Dr. Baymon.
Heart attack signs and symptoms in both men and women can include:
For women, symptoms can also include:
After you’ve called 911, “Emergency medication can do a lot to reduce damage to the heart,” says Dr. Baymon.
Ask the person to chew and swallow an aspirin immediately, as long as they aren’t allergic to it. This can help thin the blood.
If the person already has a heart condition and has been prescribed nitroglycerin by their cardiologist, they should take the medication right away. Nitroglycerin treats chest pain in people with coronary artery disease. It works by relaxing blood vessels, which reduces the workload of the heart.
If the person isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse, start performing CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one’s available nearby.