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Warning signs of a heart attack

Immediate medical care can prevent heart damage and death from a heart attack. If you have heart attack symptoms, call 911 right away.

Every year about 805,000 Americans have heart attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 12% of them die.  

This heavy toll could be reduced if people would simply get help sooner. Most people wait more than two hours to get help, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). However, heart attack treatments work best if they're given within an hour after symptoms start.

These treatments can stop or reverse the heart attack, restoring blood flow to the heart, saving the person's life and preventing severe heart damage that can limit activity permanently.

Quick action is the best way to fight back at heart attacks. To help ensure you're ready, get familiar with the warning signs of heart attack and plan ahead of time how you would respond to heart attack symptoms.

The AHA and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) list these common symptoms of heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and returns.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweats, nausea or light-headedness.

Not every symptom occurs in every heart attack. If you or someone around you has some of these symptoms, seek help immediately-wait no more than five minutes to call 911.

What to do now

The NHLBI recommends planning ahead of time what you'll do if you have heart attack symptoms at home, while sleeping, at work or in any other situation that might require thinking ahead.

Decide who would care for your dependents, if you have any, in an emergency. Keep a list of the medicines you take and the medicines you're allergic to.

If you're concerned about your health insurance, check on your benefits. Most companies cover emergency care for possible heart attacks.

Most important, talk to your doctor about your risks for a heart attack and how to reduce them.

No excuses

If there's any chance that you or someone you love is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. It's the fastest way to access advanced medical care. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital unless you have no other options.

The medical experts who work in ambulances can start life-saving treatment as soon as they reach you. If your heart stops suddenly, they have the equipment to start it again. Arriving in an ambulance also means you'll get priority treatment at the hospital.

When it comes to heart attacks there's no time for anything but the most advanced care. Talk to your doctor about heart attack symptoms, and if you ever experience them, get help right away. It could save your life.

Reviewed 9/6/2023

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