A heart attack occurs when an artery that supplies oxygen to your heart muscle becomes blocked. A heart attack may cause chest pain that lasts 15 minutes or longer. But a heart attack can also be silent and produce no signs or symptoms.
Many people who experience a heart attack have warning symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. The earliest warning sign of an attack may be ongoing episodes of chest pain that start when you’re physically active, but are relieved by rest.
Someone having a heart attack may experience any or all of the following:
Uncomfortable pressure, fullness or squeezing pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes
Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms
Lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath
If you or someone else may be having a heart attack:
Call for emergency medical assistance. Don’t “tough out” the symptoms of a heart attack for more than five minutes. If you don’t have access to emergency medical services, have someone, such as a neighbor or friend, drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort, if there are absolutely no other options. Driving yourself puts you and others at risk if your condition suddenly worsens.
Chew a regular-strength aspirin. Aspirin reduces blood clotting, which can help blood flow through a narrowed artery that’s caused a heart attack. However, don’t take aspirin if you are allergic to aspirin, have bleeding problems or take another blood-thinning medication, or if your doctor previously told you not to do so.
Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. If you think you’re having a heart attack and your doctor has previously prescribed nitroglycerin for you, take it as directed. Don’t take anyone else’s nitroglycerin.
Begin CPR on the person having a heart attack, if directed. If the person suspected of having a heart attack is unconscious, an emergency medical specialist may advise you to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you don’t know CPR, begin pushing hard and fast on the person’s chest over the heart — about 100 compressions a minute.