Each year millions of men and women worldwide have heart attacks.

Many survive with few after-effects. Others do not survive.

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout the body. To stay healthy, the heart needs oxygen and other nutrients that are carried by the blood. It gets these by way of the coronary arteries, which wrap around the outside of the heart. In a heart attack (myocardial infarction), part of the heart muscle dies when deprived of blood.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack:
  • An uncomfortable feeling of pressure, squeezing or pain in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – could be mistaken for severe heartburn.
  • Pain that may spread to – or be present in only – the jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, elbows or the hand.
  • Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen.
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, sweating or feeling clammy to the touch.
  • Exhaustion – may be experienced weeks before the attack.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Frequent angina attacks not caused by exertion.

Symptoms may vary from mild to strong and do not all occur in every heart attack, but if any combination of these takes place, get help fast! Quick treatment can save heart muscle from irreparable damage. The more heart muscle that is spared, the more effectively the heart will pump after the attack.

If you or someone you know shows symptoms of a heart attack:
  • Recognise the symptoms.
  • Stop whatever you are doing and sit down or lie down.
  • If symptoms last more than a few minutes, call a local emergency telephone number. Tell the dispatcher that you suspect heart attack and give him the information needed to locate you.
  • If you can get the victim to a hospital emergency room more quickly by driving there yourself, do so. If you think you are having a heart attack, ask someone to drive you there.
While you wait for an emergency crew:
  • Loosen tight clothing, including a belt or a necktie. Help the victim to get comfortable, propping him or her with pillows if necessary.
  • Stay calm, whether you are the victim or the helper. Excitement may increase the likelihood of life-threatening arrhythmia.
If the victim seems to stop breathing:
  • In a loud voice ask, “Can you hear me?” If there is no response, if there is no pulse and if the victim is not breathing, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Remember the three basic steps of CPR:
  • Lift the victim’s chin up, in order to open the airway.
  • With airway open, while pinching the victim’s nostrils closed, blow slowly twice into the mouth until the chest rises.
  • Press 10 to 15 times on the middle of the chest between the nipples to push blood out of the heart and the chest. Every 15 seconds, cycle two breaths followed by 15 compressions until pulse and breathing are regained or the emergency team arrives.

CPR should be performed by someone trained to do it, but when no one trained is available, “any CPR is better than none,” says Dr. R. Cummins, a director of emergency cardiac care. Unless someone initiates these steps, chances of survival are very poor. CPR buys time until help arrives.

Also see What Is a Heart Attack?