First Aid For Heart Attack: What To Do In An Emergency

When you see a person in need of emergency help for a heart attack, act quickly. Assure the person, call the nearest medical helpline number, and start CPR, if necessary. It can save someone’s life.

By D Tejaswi
22 Sep 2022

We are all familiar with the cinematic idea of a heart attack where the person clutches their chest, grimaces in pain and collapses. But heart attacks don’t always present itself with chest pain. Moreover, symptoms of a heart attack vary between men and women.


While common warning signs of heart attack are pain or discomfort in the chest, lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath and discomfort in left shoulder or arm, women are more likely to have other symptoms, such as indigestion, dizziness, hot flashes, nausea, confusion and excessive fatigue.



So next time you see someone feeling uneasy or experiencing fatigue or shortness of breath, be vigilant; it could be a sign of a heart attack. Act quickly, make the person feel comfortable, pay attention to their symptoms and call for immediate medical attention (call 112, 102 or 108 (which is currently operational in 18 states of India).


“But, the problem with a heart attack is that both the patient and bystanders do not know what to do in an emergency,” says Dr Arora. “The reasons range from confusion to denial to fear of looking silly.” But 9 in 10 people who have a cardiac arrest outside the hospital die. “Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of what to do when someone is having a heart attack,” says the doctor. Doing CPR right away doubles or even triples a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest. The good news is that you don’t need a special certification or formal training to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), but you do need education. “Don’t be afraid—just be prepared,” adds Dr Arora.


Related story: 10 Things to Know About Hypertension


Here are the first aid steps to help a person who may be having a heart attack.


For a conscious patient

Step 1: Assure the person affected and reach out to medical care as soon as possible.

Dial your nearest hospital and if you can’t call, get someone else to do it. The person suffering cardiac arrest needs medical help as soon as possible.


Step 2: Help the person sit down.

Ensure the patient is in a comfortable position, ideally leaning against a wall with their head supported and knees bent. “Sitting eases the strain on the heart, and sitting on the floor also means that they are less likely to fall or hurt themselves if they collapse suddenly,” explains Dr Arora.


Step 3: Loosen tight clothing.

See that the clothes around their neck, chest, and waist are loose and comfortable. For instance, if they are wearing a tie, remove it, unbutton the top button and remove the belt. Take off other things such as a handbag, purse, or mobile to keep them comfortable.


Step 4: Do not leave the person alone.

Avoid leaving the patient unattended, monitor them continually. The severity of the heart attack depends on several factors, including the person's overall health and the amount of damage the heart attack has done to the muscle.


Step 5: Help them take prescribed medicine.

Each minute after the heart attack, more heart tissue is damaged. Medications help to fix the blood flow and restore oxygen levels. “Help the patient chew and swallow aspirin while waiting for emergency help. Aspirin helps keep the blood from clotting,” says Dr Arora. “But check if the patient has an allergy to aspirin or if their doctor has advised them not to use aspirin.” Check if the patient has been prescribed any other medication and help them take it.


For an Unconscious Patient

Heart attack first aid for a patient who loses consciousness goes a little beyond the above steps.


Step 1: Inform the ambulance/emergency number operator that the patient is unconscious.

This is crucial because they will send the ambulance with the necessary tools, such as a defibrillator—used to restart the heart—an ECG machine, a ventilator, an oxygen cylinder, etc.


Step 2: If there’s no pulse or breathing within 10 seconds, begin chest compressions (CPR).

Check to see if the victim is breathing. If you don't see any breathing or movement it is serious. Interlock your fingers and use the heel of your palm to press down in the centre of the chest at a rate of 2 compressions per second. “The chest is compressed to a depth of approximately two inches. Aim for 5 sets of 30 chest compressions in about 2 minutes,” notes Statpearls. “If you are worried about breaking the ribs while giving CPR, the bottom line is that the fear of breaking someone's ribs or causing other injuries should not stop you from delivering CPR,” says Dr Arora.


Step 3: Use AED (automated external defibrillator), if available.

AED is an easy-to-use, medical device that analyses the heart's rhythm and, if necessary, delivers an electrical shock to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm. While AED models vary, you can often use the device with the help of these 6 steps.


1. Turn on the AED.

2. Attach the pads to the victim’s chest. Most models have images on the pads to help them place them in the correct spot.

3. Plug the connector into the AED after attaching the pads, if the model does not come with the connector already attached.

4. Stand back for analysis.

5. Deliver the shock if advised.

6. Continue to follow the AED’s instructions until further help arrives.


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