How to survive a heart attack

The advice sounds very simple. The best way to survive a heart attack is:

1. Recognize the symptoms.

2. Call 911.

3. Chew an aspirin while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.

But every year, 133,000 Americans die of heart attacks and another 300,000 die of sudden cardiac arrest—largely because they didn't get help in time. 

Why is it a only 50% of heart attack victims arrive by ambulance and a whopping 17% drive themselves to the hospital? Many victims said they'd be embarrassed to have neighbors see them taken away on a gurney or they were unwilling to pay for an ambulance in case their symptoms turned out to be a false alarm. 

While men are notoriously stubborn when it comes to admitting heart attack symptoms, women are just as likely to put off going to the hospital when suffering a heart attack. Male or female, we tend to think we are too busy or too important to have a heart attack. Heart attacks are not convenient. 

We are certain we'll feel better after we pick up the kids or get through the last meeting or finish the shoveling the snow or after we get dinner started. We wonder if we have a stomach bug coming on. 

We avoid hospitals because we don't have health insurance and fear a large medical bill. We don't want the doctors to think we are whimps. We don't want to make a fuss or draw attention to ourselves when in public. We hate to look weak in front of our loved ones. We're pretty sure we just need a nap.

But calling 911 has its advantages. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) can perform CPR, start necessary IV's or use a defibrillator in case of cardiac arrest. They can gauge the extent of the heart attack and notify the hospital so the correct equipment is standing by when the patient arrives at the hospital doors. EMTs significantly cut the amount of time between arriving at the hospital and having a blocked artery opened. 

These are some common symptoms for both genders:

  • Pain, pressure, squeezing and/or discomfort in the chest
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath for no apparent reason
  • Sharp pain in one or both arms, in the upper back, jaw or neck
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden cold sweats, dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Women are twice as likely to experience vomiting or nausea when experiencing a heart attack or experience pain and/or pressure in the lower chest and stomach or have a sudden onset of dizziness with or without fainting. 

Pay attention to your body and trust your instincts. You know when something isn't right. Wondering whether or not you should call 911? The best litmus test is this: If someone you loved was suffering from these symptoms, what would you do? Yep. That's right. You'd call 911.