• Heart Attack

    What is a Heart Attack?

    A heart attack happens when blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. Because the cells in the affected area of the heart muscle are not receiving the oxygen and nutrients they need, they become damaged and can die, causing the heart to not pump normally and if untreated, stop pumping blood. Calling 9-1-1 as soon as you recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can minimize the damage to the heart and may save the person’s life.

    Are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack the same for everyone?

    Signs and symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person and can be different in women than they are in men. Even people who have had a heart attack before may not experience the same signs and symptoms if they have a second heart attack. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack may also be more subtle in people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes. If you suspect a heart attack, always respond as if it is one. Although men often have the “classic” signs and symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain that radiates down one arm, women often have more subtle signs and symptoms or experience the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differently than men do. For example, in women, the “classic” signs and symptoms may be milder or accompanied by more general signs and symptoms such as shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; extreme fatigue; and dizziness or light-headedness.

    Emergency Steps


    Check the scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Persistent chest pain longer than 3 to 5 minutes or goes away and comes back*
    • Chest pressure, squeezing, tightness, aching or heaviness*
    • Isolated unexplained discomfort or pain spreading to arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach*
    • Trouble breathing*
    • Pale, gray or bluish skin*
    • Feeling of anxiety or impending doom*
    • Unresponsiveness*
    • Dizziness*
    • Nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue or sweating

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with a * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment, including an AED if available, if the person requires immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Give Care.

    General Care: Heart Attack

    1. Have them stop activity and rest in a comfortable position.
    2. If they are awake, can understand simple commands, and can chew or swallow and are allowed to have aspirin, assist them to take two to four low-dose (81-mg) aspirin tablets (162 to 324 mg) or one regular-strength (325-mg) aspirin tablet.
    3. If they have prescribed medication such as nitroglycerin, offer to assist with taking it.
    4. Loosen tight or uncomfortable clothing.
    5. Continue checking them as appropriate to determine if additional care is needed.
    6. Keep person from getting cold or overheated.
    7. Give care for shock, if necessary.
    8. Stay with them until EMS arrives.
    9. Reassure person you will help and that EMS has been called (if appropriate).
    10. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness until EMS arrives, and give care as appropriate and trained.
    11. Be prepared to give CPR or compression-only CPR based on level of training and use an AED when available if they become unresponsive and are not breathing (cardiac arrest).

    Heart Attack FAQs

    What are some tips to help save the life of a person with a heart attack?

    • Call 9-1-1 immediately if you think someone is having a heart attack.
    • Get or instruct someone to get an AED if there is one available.
    • Never drive a person to the hospital yourself.
    • Don’t delay seeking care by disregarding signs and symptoms.
    • Don’t worry about causing a “false alarm” by calling 9-1-1.
    • Remember: Most people that succumb to fatal heart attacks die within the first 2 hours of signs and symptoms. Early care saves lives.

    I’ve heard that women may have different symptoms of a heart attack than men. Is this true?

    Although men often have “classic” signs and symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain radiating down one arm, women may have more subtle signs and symptoms or experience a heart attack differently than men do.

    For example, the “classic” signs and symptoms in women may be milder or accompanied by more general signs and symptoms such as back pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, and dizziness or light-headedness. Because these signs and symptoms are general and nonspecific, women may experience them for hours, days or even weeks leading up to the heart attack but dismiss them as nothing out of the ordinary.

    Difference Between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

    A heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same thing. A heart attack is a blockage of the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart muscle. The person may be awake, and if left untreated the heart attack may progress to cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating or beats too ineffectively to circulate blood to the brain and other vital organs.

    Learn more about the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest.

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    Information Provided the Scientific Advisory Council (SAC)

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