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How to Survive a Heart Attack
last updated:
Mon, 10/25/2010 4:01 PM

Fast action is the best weapon against heart attack! Artery opening treatments can stop a heart attack in its tracks. They can prevent or limit heart damage–but they need to be able to be performed as soon as possible after the symptoms begin.

  • Chewing and swallowing a 325 mg aspirin can reduce damage to the heart if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Call 911 and get the person to the hospital as soon as possible.

Know the Early Symptoms of Heart Attacks

Early warning signs are present in nearly 50% of all heart attacks. Symptoms are usually present 24 hours before the attack but can occur 2-3 weeks beforehand. Symptoms are typically intermittent lasting from a few minutes to a few hours, followed by a pain-free period before the acute attack.

Non-specific signs include:

  • Weakness/fatigue
  • Clammy/sweating
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Dizziness/nervousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Neck/back/jaw pain
  • Feeling of doom

Specific signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Chest pressure
  • Chest ache
  • Chest burning
  • Chest fullness

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense—like the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.

Immediately call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can be sent for you. As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives—maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number.

Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive—up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room.


Jennifer Hutzel is a Registered Nurse at the Methodist North Chest Pain Center. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Call 888.777.5959 for more information.


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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000