Heart Attack: Symptoms

What do you do if you've think you're experiencing a heart attack?

If you think may be experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, do not wait to see if they go away. If you experience discomfort or pain in the chest, unusual shortness of breath (especially if you are a woman), heart palpitations, discomfort in the arms, back, neck or jaw, bluish fingernails, nausea (women) or lightheadedness, or have another condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, call 911 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Quick Links

What is a heart attack?

How is it treated?

Learn about healthy lifestyle changes?

What medications will your doctor prescribe?

Life after a heart attack

Connect with patients and caregivers

What to Do If You Think You Are Having a Heart Attack

  1. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Tell the operator you think you are having a heart attack. The first three to six hours after the onset of a heart attack are critical. It is important to get medical attention at once. Delaying medical attention can lead to permanent damage to the heart muscle, and even death. Do not delay getting medical treatment, even if you are not sure you are having a heart attack.
  1. Ask for an ambulance. Ambulances are well equipped to provide emergency care for people who are having heart attacks. It is better to have medical personnel come to you. However, if you can get to the hospital faster by car, have someone drive you. Do not drive yourself.

  2. Leave the phone off the hook. This will allow emergency medical technicians to locate you if you become unconscious.

  3. Take an aspirin. Aspirin prevents the formation of blood clots. If you are having a heart attack, taking an aspirin will improve your chances of survival. If you are allergic to aspirin, tell the 911 operator and ask what else you can do.

  4. Take nitroglycerin medication. If you have nitroglycerin tablets, take up to three pills, one at a time, every five minutes.

  5. Sit or lie down.

  6. Follow any instructions the 9-1-1 operator gives you. It is important that you or the person caring for you follow the instructions given to you.

  7. At the emergency room. When you arrive at the emergency room, you or the person who brought you should announce clearly that you may be having a heart attack. Make sure you are seen at once.

At the Hospital

If the doctor determines you're having a heart attack, you might be given "clot busters" to reopen the arteries to your heart.

An I.V. (intravenous line) will be placed in your arm to give you medicines.

Medical personnel will also do an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), give you oxygen to breathe, and watch your heart rate and rhythm on a monitor.

You may remain in the hospital for up to a week after suffering a heart attack.


Within a few days, your heart will begin to heal. If there are no complications, you may be

discharged from the hospital after five to seven days.

It is normal to feel tired for a week or two. You will nee to rebuild your strength gradually. You may be assigned to a cardiac rehabilitation specialist to help with your recovery.

Full recovery may take 6 to 12 weeks. During that time you want to:

**1.**Make sure that you have someone around at all time who can help you so that you get lots of rest.

2. Space your activities. Increase your activity level gradually, in a way that is consistent with what your doctor has recommended.

3. Avoid heady lifting and driving until your doctor says it is OK.

4. Get support. It is normal to feel a lot of different emotions after a heart attack. You may feel depressed, angry, or frightened. Your family members may also experience these feelings. This is normal. It is usually helpful to talk about your feelings and discuss your heart attack and recovery. Support groups, counseling, and discussions with your doctor may help.