Heart Smart: In Case Of A Heart Attack

Man holding his chest having a heart attack
Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of Americans?

Becoming more heart healthy has been one of the national campaigns educating everyone from school aged to the elderly, and it is always good to review what to do when a loved one experiences chest pain. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked and then damaged from lack of oxygen. Often, because heart attacks may feel like a mild discomfort or pain, the symptoms can go unnoticed. 

The most common heart attack signs and symptoms are according to Agingcare.com:

  • Chest discomfort or pain—uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest that can be mild or strong. This discomfort or pain lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort.
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and/or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

If you are caregiving for someone who has had a heart attack, have a plan just in case there is an emergency.  Keep a card that lists all the symptoms of a heart attack close by, a list of medications and nearby trauma centers. Call 911 right away if your loved one is experiencing any of symptoms. Don’t wait more than a few minutes to call — 5 minutes at the most.

You need to be aware of the warning signs as most heart attacks start slowly and our loved ones may not want to call for assistance, thinking the “indigestion” will soon pass. Getting help as soon as possible is key to recovering from a heart attack.

Should you take an aspirin during a heart attack? The American Heart Association recommends the following:

Frequently Asked Questions About Aspirin

Aspirin tabletDuring Heart Attack

Taking aspirin also helps during a heart attack. In fact, people having a heart attack are often given an aspirin by emergency medical services. This may take place in the ambulance or in a hospital emergency room. 

Taking an aspirin as soon as symptoms start greatly improves the chance of survival.

Preventing a Second Heart Attack
By making it harder for blood clots to form, aspirin helps prevent a second heart attack. The dose of aspirin prescribed may be larger than that used to help prevent a first heart attack. Your healthcare provider will decide the right dose for you.

What about aspirin and alcohol?
There is a risk of stomach problems, including stomach bleeding, for people who take aspirin regularly.  Alcohol use can increase these stomach risks, so ask your doctor if it is safe for you to drink alcohol in moderation.

Should I take aspirin during a heart attack or stroke?
The more important thing to do if any heart attack warning signs occur is to call 9-1-1 immediately.  Don’t do anything before calling 9-1-1.  In particular, don’t take an aspirin, then wait for it to relieve your pain.  Don’t postpone calling 9-1-1.  Aspirin won’t treat your heart attack by itself.

After you call 9-1-1, the 9-1-1 operator may recommend that you take an aspirin.  He or she can make sure that you don’t have an allergy to aspirin or a condition that makes using it too risky. If the 9-1-1 operator doesn’t talk to you about taking an aspirin, the emergency medical technicians or the physician in the Emergency Department will give you an aspirin if it’s right for you.  Research shows that getting an aspirin early in the treatment of a heart attack, along with other treatments EMTs and Emergency Department physicians provide, can significantly improve your chances of survival.

Taking aspirin isn’t advised during a stroke, because not all strokes are caused by blood clots.  Most strokes are caused by clots, but some are caused by ruptured blood vessels.  Taking aspirin could potentially make these bleeding strokes more severe.

Read more

To understand more about how a heart attack is treated, The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute is an excellent resource.

There is some positive news about heart disease – the number of heart attacks has decreased in the past few years – to be specific 80,000 fewer heart attacks in 2007 than 2002.  The reasons for this decrease:

  • Improved dietary habits – eating less saturated fats
  • Better lifestyle choices
  • Increased use of cholesterol and blood pressure medications
  • Decreased smoking rates

Coronary heart disease is still the number one killer of Americans so make sure to keep making healthy lifestyle choices!


An Overview of a Heart Attack: Warning Signs and Risk Factors | AgingCare.com

Aspirin and Heart Disease | American Heart Association

How Is a Heart Attack Treated? | National Heart Lung & Blood Institute
Heart Attack Warning Symptoms (VIDEO) | National Heart Lung & Blood Institute

Good News on Heart Attacks and the Elderly: Johns Hopkins Health Alerts


Tips for Caregivers of People with Heart Disease| Healia

What is a Heart Attack | National Institutes of Health

What is a Heart Attack: Know the Warning Signs | National Institutes of Health (VIDEO)

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