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heart attack survivalFast action is your best weapon against a heart attack. Why? Because clot-busting drugs and other artery-opening treatments can stop a heart attack in its tracks. They can prevent or limit damage to the heart, but they need to be given immediately after symptoms begin. The sooner they are started, the more good they will do and the greater the chances are for survival and a full recovery. To be most effective, they need to be given ideally within 1 hour of the start of heart attack symptoms.

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In This Article:

Uncertainty is Normal
Delay Can Be Deadly
Calling 9-1-1
Emergency Medical Personnel
Planning Ahead For A Heart Attack

Uncertainty is Normal

Expectations often don’t match reality when it comes to heart attack. People expect a heart attack to happen as it does in the movies, where someone clutches his or her chest in pain and falls over. Because of this expectation, people often are not sure if they’re having a heart attack. As a result, people often take a wait-and-see approach instead of seeking care at once. This even happens to people who have already had a heart attack. They may not recognize the symptoms, because their next heart attack can have entirely different symptoms.

Learn the Warning Signs of A Heart Attack. But, always remember: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, you should still have it checked out.

Delay Can Be Deadly

Most persons having a heart attack wait too long to seek medical help and that can be a fatal mistake. Patient delay-rather than transport or hospital delay is the biggest cause of not getting rapid care for heart attacks.

People often take a wait-and-see approach, delaying because they:

  • Do not understand the symptoms of a heart attack and think that what they are feeling is due to something else.
  • Are afraid or unwilling to admit that their symptoms could be serious.
  • Are embarrassed about "causing a scene," or going to the hospital and finding out it is a false alarm.
  • Do not understand the importance of getting to the hospital right away.

Some patients are more likely than others to delay. For instance, women, older persons, and minorities are more likely to delay getting help.

As a result, most heart attack victims wait 2 hours or more after their symptoms begin before they seek medical help. This delay can result in death or permanent heart damage, damage that can greatly reduce the ability to do everyday activities.

Call 9-1-1

The first step to take when a heart attack happens is to call 9-1-1. Call whether you’re sure you are having a heart attack or not. Anyone showing heart attack warning signs needs to receive medical treatment right away. Don’t wait more than a few minutes, 5 minutes at most, to call 9-1-1.

Calling 9-1-1 for an ambulance is the best way to get to the hospital because:

  1. Emergency medical personnel (also called EMS, for emergency medical services) can begin treatment immediately–even before arrival at the hospital.
  2. The heart may stop beating during a heart attack. This is called sudden cardiac arrest. Emergency personnel have the equipment needed to start the heart beating again.
  3. Heart attack patients who arrive by ambulance tend to receive faster treatment on their arrival at the hospital.

If for some reason, you are having heart attack symptoms and cannot call 9-1-1, have someone else drive you at once to the hospital. Never drive yourself to the hospital, unless you absolutely have no other choice.

Emergency Medical Personnel

Calling 9-1-1 is like bringing a hospital emergency department to your door. Why?

  • Emergency medical personnel can take vital signs, determine your medical condition, and if needed give added medical care.
  • In many places, emergency medical personnel are linked to hospitals and doctors, so they can relay your vital signs and electrocardiogram to the emergency department before you arrive. This way, you receive immediate continued treatment by emergency department personnel once you reach the hospital.
  • Emergency medical personnel can give a variety of treatments and medications at the scene. Emergency medical personnel carry drugs and equipment that can help your medical condition, including oxygen, heart medications (such as nitroglycerin), pain relief treatments (such as morphine), and defibrillators (equipment that restarts the heart if it stops beating).

Plan Ahead

Make a plan now for what you would do if a heart attack should happen. Doing so will save time and could help save a life. Read Planning Ahead For A Heart Attack to get tips on how to plan ahead for a heart attack.

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