Each year over 700,000 people suffer heart attacks in the United States; of these people, around 120,000 die. Heart attacks and other forms of heart disease are the leading cause of death among Americans and, indeed, the number one killer around the world. About half of heart attack deaths occur in the first hour, before the victim reaches a hospital. Thus, if you experience a heart attack, it is essential to act quickly in order to maximize your chances of survival. Notifying emergency services within the first five minutes of a heart attack, and receiving medical attention within the first hour, can mean the difference between life and death. If you believe you may be suffering a heart attack, seek emergency medical attention at once. Otherwise, read on to learn strategies to survive a heart attack.
Assessing the Signs of a Heart Attack
Pay attention to chest pain. Mild chest pain or discomfort in the chest, rather than sudden, crushing pain, is the most common symptom of a heart attack. The pain may feel like a heavy weight on your chest, a squeezing or tightness around the chest, or indigestion/heartburn.
Be aware of other symptoms. Chest pain may be accompanied by other symptoms that indicate you are experiencing a heart attack; however, many people, in fact, have a heart attack with little to no chest pain.
Know the signs of a heart attack in women. The most common sign of a heart attack for both men and women is chest pain. However, women (and some men) may suffer a heart attack with only mild chest pains, or without experiencing chest pain at all. Women – as well as elderly people and people with diabetes – are also more likely to experience the following symptoms of a heart attack, with or without chest pain:
- Women may experience chest pain that does not conform to what is perceived as the sudden, crushing pain of a heart attack. This pain may appear and recede, begin slowly and increase in severity over time, ease with rest and increase during physical exertion.
- Pain in the jaw, neck or back are common signs of a heart attack, particularly for women.
- Pain in the upper abdomen, cold sweats, nausea, and vomiting are more common in women than men. These signs can be misinterpreted as pointing to heartburn, indigestion or the flu.
- Breaking out in cold, nervous sweat is a common symptom in women. Usually, this will feel more like stress or anxiety, rather than normal sweating following exercise or other physical activities.
- Anxiety, unexplained panic attacks and a sense of impending doom are more common symptoms for women than men.
- Sudden, unusual or unexplained fatigue, weakness and lack of energy are common signs of a heart attack in women. These symptoms can last a short period of time or persist for several days.
- Shortness of breath, lightheadedness and fainting
React quickly to symptoms. Most heart attacks build up slowly, rather than suddenly strike the victim; many people do not realize they are experiencing a major medical emergency. If you or somebody you know experiences one or more of the common signs of a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately.
Getting Help During a Heart Attack
Seek medical attention immediately. About 90% of people who suffer a heart attack survive if they arrive at the hospital alive.  Many heart attack fatalities occur because victims fail to receive swift medical attention, and their failure to do so is often caused by their own hesitation to act. If you feel any of the above symptoms, don’t try to wait them out. Call 9-1-1 (or your country’s equivalent emergency telephone number) to get help immediately.
Make people aware that you may be having a heart attack. If you’re around family or out in public when you believe you may suffering from a heart attack, let people know. If your situation worsens, your life may depend on someone giving you CPR, and you’re more likely to get effective help if people know what’s going on.
Minimize activity. If you cannot get to medical attention quickly, try to remain calm and do as little as possible. Sit down, rest and wait for emergency medical services to arrive. Exertion can strain your heart and can worsen the damage caused by a heart attack.
Take an aspirin or nitroglycerin, if appropriate. Many people can benefit from taking an aspirin at the onset of a heart attack. You should take one tablet immediately and chew it slowly while you wait for emergency personnel to arrive. If you have been prescribed nitroglycerin, take one dose at the onset of a heart attack and call emergency services.
Follow professional medical advice after the heart attack. When you survive a heart attack, it is essential to follow your doctor’s advice for recovery, both in the days immediately following the occurrence and over the long term.
Be aware of changes in your emotions and outlook. It is quite common for people who have survived a heart attack to experience bouts of depression. Depression can stem from embarrassment, self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, guilt over previous lifestyle choices, and fear or uncertainty about the future.
Know the risks of a second heart attack. If you have a heart attack you are at a higher risk of a second heart attack; nearly one-third of the heart attacks in the United States each year happen to people who have survived a previous attack
Make changes in your lifestyle. Medical complications from an unhealthy lifestyle put you at a greater risk of a second heart attack. Inactivity, obesity, high cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, stress, and smoking all increase the risk of a heart attack.
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