How to Help a Heart Attack Victim

May 7th 2016

The more quickly you take action when someone appears to be having a heart attack, the more likely you are to save a life. Be aware of the visible symptoms of heart attack so that you can be prepared to help.

Call for Help

Call 911 immediately if you're in the presence of someone having a heart attack. The only time this shouldn't be your first step is if the person isn't breathing; in this case, move directly to providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and try to get someone else on the scene to call 911. If you're put on hold when you call 911, don't hang up and try again; doing so only puts you at the end of the line. Use your time on hold to ascertain your exact location. Once an operator answers the call, start by providing your mobile number, explain that someone is having a heart attack, and then provide your precise location.

Aid the Patient

Someone experiencing a mild heart attack may complain only of feeling pressure in his chest or of pain radiating down his left arm. A mild heart attack may also cause nausea, pale and clammy skin, and shortness of breath. If you believe someone showing these symptoms may be having a heart attack, have him sit down and loosen his clothing. Give him an aspirin if one is available. Don't leave the heart attack victim alone for any reason, and watch to make sure he stays conscious and breathing.

Perform CPR

If there is an automatic external defibrillator available, use it before beginning CPR. If you need to perform CPR, don't waste time checking for a pulse, but get to work immediately. Hands-on CPR is more crucial and effective than the formerly taught technique of alternating chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Perform chest compressions by pressing the heels of both hands into the center of the heart attack victim's chest. Press down and release at a rate of 100 times per minute. Make sure to release the pressure completely after each compression. Continue this until medical help arrives.

If a patient who was unconscious comes to consciousness, keep him calm and warm, tell him what's happening, and let him know that help is on the way. If you don't know how to perform CPR, consider taking a course from the American Red Cross to learn this lifesaving skill.


If you're present when someone has a heart attack, you may have only a few minutes to provide help. The help needed depends on whether the heart attack victim is conscious or not as well as whether or not he's breathing. Heart attack symptoms can be far more subtle than they appear on television shows. If you're not sure if someone's having a heart attack, it's always better to overreact than to underreact; by doing so, you might save a life.

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