Want to know what to do if your loved one is having a heart attack

Unlike in the movies, someone having a heart attack probably won’t grab their chest and fall to the floor.

In fact they more likely may just feel like they’re getting a bit of acid reflux, shoulder pain and sweating. People have been known to go on like this not realising they’re having a heart attack for up to 24 hours!

If you can get them to a hospital within an hour (“The Golden Hour” is what it’s called in medicine) you hugely increase their chances of having a normally functioning heart in the future.

Just to let you know, a heart attack is caused by a blood clot getting lodged in the artery that gives the heart blood. Without blood provided to the heart muscle, the muscle begins to die.

  • A heart attack is caused by a blood clot getting lodged in the artery that gives the heart blood. Without blood provided to the heart muscle, the muscle begins to die
    Click on image for more info

So here’s what to do:

1) Call an ambulance

2) GTN Pump, if they’ve had trouble with their heart before they may have one of these that helps open up the artery that is blocked. It’s sprayed under the tongue.

3) Chewable aspirin (if they’re not allergic), this thins their blood so that it can get past the clot.

As a relative though one of your most powerful tool is reassurance, many people describe a feeling of “impending doom” when their heart attack symptoms onset!

But what if your loved one does actually collapse and are not responding to you?

This would mean that the blockage is more serious, and their heart may have panicked and gone into ‘Ventricular Tachycardia’ meaning it’s electrical circuits have become mixed up so the heart is not able to push blood out anymore.

They’ve fainted because their brain isn’t getting enough blood, and the next thing to do is find an AED (defibrillator), and try and shock their heart back into normal rhythm. You’ve probably seen it used with someone rubbing the electrodes together and saying “clear”, sadly it’s not that dramatic anymore and it’s actually quite easy to use.

  •  What to do if a loved one is having a heart attack
    Click on image for more info

If there’s not a more qualified person than you present then you can proceed, in the UK the AEDs have very clear audio instructions that you should be able to follow.

I’d like to emphasise that you should look to find a more qualified person for your loved ones best chance, and if you find them don’t shout their ear off with information and give them the space, there’s nothing worse than a backseat first-aider!

  •  an AED (defibrillator) shocks the heart back into a normal rhythm
    Click on image for more info

References

Sam Fitzpatrick Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

Milad Rouf Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

Hennekens, C., Dyken, M. and Fuster, V. 1997. Aspirin as a Therapeutic Agent in Cardiovascular Disease : A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association. Circulation 96(8), pp. 2751-2753.

Management of Acute Myocardial Infarction in patients presenting with ST-segment elevation; European Society of Cardiology (2012)

Myocardial infarction with ST-segment elevation: The acute management of myocardial infarction with ST-segment elevation; NICE Clinical Guideline (July 2013)