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Survive, Don't Drive - What to Do When You Think You're Having a Heart Attack

Written by Manish Lakhani, MD, Cardiologist

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Heart attack or myocardial infarction is damage to the heart muscle which occurs due to lack of blood supply to the heart. It is very important to recognize the possible symptoms of heart attacks. Sometimes, patients have many different symptoms, and it may be confusing to know if they are having a heart attack without seeking medical attention and performing some tests.

The most common symptom of having a heart attack is chest pain, but sometimes patients describe it as more of chest pressure, heaviness, tightness, heartburns, agony or misery rather than actual pain.

It’s important to know that pain or discomfort is not always located on the left side of the chest. Patients may also experience shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, cold sweats, tingling or numbness in arm, shoulder, neck or jaw, and sometimes just extreme fatigue and weakness.

If you’re experiencing heartburn that is not relieved with the usual measures or it feels more intense, you could be having a heart attack. Women, diabetic patients or older patients sometimes present with unusual symptoms.

Survive, Don’t Drive

If you think you might be having a heart attack, remember: Survive, Don’t Drive! Always call 9-1-1 right away and do not try to get to the hospital on your own. Rescue squads are capable of starting some initial treatments right away in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. They will also alert the hospital emergency room and have the cardiac catheterization team ready for your arrival, if the heart attack is confirmed.

While waiting for EMS to arrive, you could chew (not swallow) regular aspirin, or put a nitroglycerin tablet under your tongue (if you have a prescription).

Once you get to the emergency room, the doctors are able to treat the heart attack immediately with some blood thinner medications and/or perform emergency cardiac catheterization to try to unblock your artery with a balloon and/or stent. Driving yourself or having a loved one drive you to the hospital could prolong important, lifesaving treatment.

Share this with your loved ones to spread the word about the importance of calling 9-1-1 immediately when there are symptoms of a heart attack. You could help save a life.