Heart Attack: Heart Disease, the Leading Cause of Death in the World
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world – with more than 17 million deaths per year.
If someone has signs of a possible heart attack, you must act and phone your local emergency phone number right away – even if the person does not want you to. The first minutes of a heart attack are the most important. That’s when a person is likely to get worse or even die. Also, many of the treatments for heart attack will be most successful if they are given quickly.
If a person says she has chest pain, make sure she stays calm and rests. It’s best if the person does not drive herself to the hospital. Stay with her until someone with more advanced training arrives and take over.
Heart Attack: Difference Between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest
People often use the terms of sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack to mean the same thing – but they are not the same.
- Sudden cardiac arrest is a “rhythm’ problem. It occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly.
- A heart attack is a “clot” problem. It occurs when a clot blocks blood flow.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Sudden cardiac arrest results from an abnormal heart rhythm. This abnormal rhythm causes the heart to quiver so that it can no longer pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs.
Within seconds, the person becomes unresponsive and is not breathing or is only gasping. Death occurs within minutes if the victim does not receive immediate lifesaving treatment.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked by a clot. Typically, during a heart attack, the heart continues to pump blood.
A person having a heart attack may have discomfort or pain in the chest. There may be an uncomfortable feeling in one or both arms, the neck, the jaw, or the back between the shoulder blades.
The longer the person with a heart attack goes without treatment, the greater the possible damage to the heart muscle. Occasionally, the damaged heart muscle triggers an abnormal rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
Heart Attack: Signs of a Heart Attack
Typical signs of a heart attack
- Chest discomfort – Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the body – Discomfort also may appear in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Other signs – Other signs of a heart attack are shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort), breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
Less typical signs in women, the elderly, and people with diabetes
Women, the elderly, and people with diabetes are more likely to have less typical signs of a heart attack. These may include
- An ache in the chest, heartburn, or indigestion
- An uncomfortable feeling in the back, jaw neck, or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
Many people won’t admit that their discomfort may be caused by a heart attack. People often say the following:
- “I am too healthy”
- “I don’t want to bother the doctor”
- “I don’t want to frighten my spouse”
- “I will feel silly if it is not a heart attack”
If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, act quickly and phone your local emergency number right away. Don’t hesitate, even if the person doesn’t want to admit discomfort.
Heart Attack: Actions to Help Someone with Signs of a Heart Attack
Follow these first aid action steps if someone has any signs of a possible heart attack:
- Make sure the person stays calm and rests. Phone or have someone phone your local emergency number.
- Ask someone to get the first aid kit and AED if available.
- If the person has no allergy to aspirin, no serious bleeding, and no signs of a stroke, have the person chew and swallow 1 adult or 2 low-dose aspirins. If the first aid provider is uncertain or uncomfortable with giving aspirin, the first aid provider should not encourage the person to take aspirin.
- If the person becomes unresponsive, be prepared to give CPR.
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