Many people worry about experiencing a heart attack in their lifetime, and with good reason: it’s estimated that an American has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
Even though a heart attack can be deadly, tens of thousands of Americans survive heart attacks every year. Acting quickly when you suspect a heart attack is coming on can greatly improve your chances for survival.
What should you do if you think you’re having a heart attack?
Most of the time, heart attacks start slowly with just mild discomfort and pain, giving warning signs before they strike. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 or ask someone to call 911 immediately.
These could be signs of a heart attack:
Discomfort in the chest, especially the center, that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes. The discomfort may feel like heaviness, fullness, squeezing, or pain.
Discomfort in the upper body parts such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach. This may feel like pain or general discomfort.
Shortness of breath. This may come with or without chest discomfort.
Unusual sensations such as a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, or dizziness. Women are more likely than men to experience these kinds of symptoms.
1. Have someone call an ambulance
If others are around, tell them to stay with you until emergency medical services (EMS) workers arrive. Calling 911 is usually the fastest way to get emergency care, as opposed to asking someone to drive you to a hospital in their car. EMS workers are trained to revive people experiencing heart attacks and can also transport you to the hospital for rapid care.
If you’re in a public space such as a store, school, library, or workplace, there’s a good chance there’s a defibrillator on hand.
A defibrillator is the kind of device EMS workers use to revive people who are experiencing heart attacks. If you’re still conscious at the onset of your heart attack, instruct someone nearby to find the closest defibrillator. Defibrillators come with easy-to-use instructions, so it’s possible for a non-EMS worker to revive you if the heart attack strikes.
2. Take aspirin
When you’re still conscious, take a normal dose of aspirin (325 milligrams) if you have one on hand. Aspirin works by slowing the blood’s ability to clot. During a heart attack, aspirin slows blood clotting and minimizes the size of the blood clots that might have formed.
Once the EMS arrived, they will transport you to the hospital, where you receive care for the specific type of heart attack you had.
What should you do if you think you’re having a heart attack when you’re alone?
If you’re alone and experience any of the above heart attack symptoms, call 911 right away. Take aspirin if you have it on hand. Then, unlock your front door and lie down near it, so EMS workers can easily find you.
Is there a fast way to stop a heart attack?
No, there is not a fast way to stop a heart attack without seeking emergency medical treatment at a hospital. Online you’ll find many “fast” heart attack treatments. However, these “fast” treatments are not effective and could be dangerous by delaying emergency medical treatment.
One type of treatment found online is called Cough CPR. Some online sources claim that breathing deeply, and then coughing deeply, can raise your blood pressure for a second or two. Sources say this can deliver more blood to your brain. The claim also says that if your heart is beating normally, a deep cough may be able to set it back to normal.
But the American Heart Association does not endorse cough CPR. First of all, it can't be used to treat an unresponsive person because they cannot cough.
Water and cayenne pepper
Another online recommendation that’s not effective is to drink a glass of water with a spoonful of cayenne pepper in it. Some people say cayenne pepper is a stimulant capable of increasing the heart rate and carrying blood all over the body, balancing circulation. Some claim that cayenne pepper can stop bleeding instantly.
There is no proof, however, that cayenne pepper or other types of pepper are useful when taken at the onset of a heart attack. What’s more, it’s not understood how capsaicin might interact with aspirin when taken during a heart attack — and experts know that aspirin is helpful.
While you can’t control all your heart attack risk factors, such as aging, gender (men are at higher risk), and heredity, there are some that you can control. To prevent your risk of a heart attack:
Stop smoking and minimize your exposure to secondhand smoke.
Get your high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure under control by modifying your diet, losing weight, taking medication, or doing a combination of these things.
Stay physically active daily.
Control your weight if you’re overweight or obese.
If you have diabetes, take care by sticking to your treatment plan and managing your blood sugar.
Get a handle on the stress in your life by practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga, or try talk therapy.
Limit your alcohol consumption.
Consume a healthy and balanced diet, rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.