How to Survive a Heart Attack If You're Alone

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Many heart attacks are survivable, especially if you've taken the time to prepare yourself. Anyone who thinks they're at risk for a heart attack should get a complete medical evaluation as soon as possible. The information below is far from everything you need to know, but it's enough to point you in the right direction.

Listen only to advice from medical professionals. A widely circulated e-mail recently advocated a procedure called cough CPR as a way to treat a heart attack. The American Heart Association does not recommend that the public use this method in a situation where there is no medical supervision.

Limit your risk. Listen to your doctor and make changes in your lifestyle to lower your chances of a heart attack. Stop smoking, get regular exercise, improve your diet and reduce stress.

Buy a device such as the LifeAlert unit (lifealert.net), which automatically links you to rescue or hospital personnel when you press a button.

Recognize heart attack symptoms. Shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, and pain in the neck or radiating down the arms are all associated with an attack.

Pull over if you suffer an attack while driving. You may only have seconds before you lose consciousness. Don't try to drive to the hospital no matter how close you are.

Call 911 and describe what symptoms you're feeling and where you are located.

Take an aspirin (325 mg) at the first sign of an attack. Aspirin makes blood platelets less likely to stick to each other, assisting blood flow and reducing clots. Chew it up if no drink is readily available--the time and oxygen you waste in waiting to get a sip of something isn't worth it when you're acutely symptomatic.

Take a beta-blocking drug immediately upon feeling an attack. This is a prescription-only drug; if you have a heart condition, you probably already have this medication.

Administer oxygen to yourself. You are likely to have bottled oxygen available only if you have a diagnosed heart condition.

Thump yourself on the chest as hard as possible. This is very effective when administered by someone else but can be hard to do to yourself.

Tips & Warnings

  • For more information, contact the American Heart Association (american heart.org).
  • If you have a defibrillator, educate your family or neighbor on how to use it. Most have explicit voice and text prompts to guide users through the process. Many businesses also stock defibrillators and CPR kits.
  • This advice is not a substitute for proper medical care. Consult your physician if you have concerns or questions.
  • Don't be confused by indigestion. If an antacid doesn't work in a few minutes, call 911 immediately. You could be having a heart attack-- the doctors won't mind if it turns out to be "just gas."

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