How to Survive a Heart Attack When Alone
If you were to suffer a heart attack while in the company of people, calling out for help is probably the first instinctive thing you would do. But what if a heart attack happens when you’re alone, would you likely survive it? The answer may surprise you.
Classical symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Severe chest pain (like squeezing, or a heaviness, or pressing) at the central or left part of the chest, lasting usually for at least 20 min.
- Pain that radiates to the left upper arm, neck or jaw.
- Profuse sweating and a feeling of impending doom.
Should you experience a heart attack – regardless of whether you’re alone or in the presence of others – the very first thing to do is to call for emergency medical help (call 108 if in INDIA). You need specialised treatment to be delivered to you as quickly as possible in order to save your heart muscle.
Should you be alone when a heart attack occurs, stop whatever you’re doing, proceed to a safe place to rest and call for medical help. For example, if you’re driving, first pull to the side of the road and call for aid.
What to do while waiting for medical help to arrive
Take an aspirin (if you are not allergic to it): It is the most commonly taken blood thinning medication in the world, which will improve your chances of survival when taken during a heart attack.
Most cases of heart attack are caused by a blood clot forming in one of the blood vessels responsible for supplying blood to the heart. The resulting blockage deprives the heart of oxygen-rich blood, causing damage to the heart muscle, which progressively dies. Taking an aspirin during a heart attack may help as it prevents the clot from getting bigger, giving the body a chance to break down the blood clot.
Remain calm. As frightening as a heart attack is, rushing around or putting yourself into a state of panic can worsen the problem. Relax as much as possible to keep your heart rate steady and calm.
Count as a way of slowing your heartbeat. Make sure that your counts are slow, and use the standard one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand…approach.
Lie down. Lie on your back and raise your legs upward. This opens up the diaphragm, making it easier for you to breathe and supply oxygen to your blood.
Make the position easier to maintain by propping your legs up on pillows or another object. You could also lie down on the floor with your legs propped up on a couch or chair.
Do not take nitroglycerin: Taking nitroglycerin that temporarily widens blood vessels to improve blood supply to the heart, does not help.
“Nitroglycerin has not been shown to prevent heart attacks or improve survival substantially during an attack. It is more useful for patients with angina, an altogether different condition where patients experience chest pain or discomfort when exerting themselves.”
Do not cough repeatedly/ Cough CPR: For self-administered “treatments” such as coughing repeatedly, are probably just urban legends.
During a sudden arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), it may be possible for a conscious, responsive person to cough forcefully and repetitively to maintain enough blood flow to the brain to remain conscious for a few seconds until the arrhythmia is treated. Blood flow is maintained by increased pressure in the chest that occurs during forceful coughs. This has been mislabeled “cough CPR,” although it’s not a form of traditional resuscitation.
Cough CPR is used in hospitals on occasion for patients who are about to go into full cardiac arrest. Even then, it should only be done under the strict supervision and instruction of a doctor
Do not apply pressure on the chest: Similarly, applying pressure on the chest area by yourself during a heart attack is unlikely to help unless the person’s heart has stopped beating (also known as a cardiac arrest). When this happens, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) should be administered – ideally by someone who is trained to do so.
Talk to your doctor about what to do in the future. Suffering a heart attack once increases your risk of experiencing a heart attack in the future. When you survive your heart attack this time around, you should talk with your physician to discuss ways of improving your chances of survival if you should suffer from one again.