6 tips to survive a heart attack

Although heart attack remains one of the main causes of death in the western countries, a number of steps can substantially boost the odds of survival and save precious time during a cardiac emergency.

1. Early recognition of the warnings signs. Common symptoms and signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort (pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain), pain radiating to the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach, dyspnea (shortness of breath), sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness (lightheadedness). Not everyone who has a heart attack experiences the same symptoms, and some patients have no symptoms at all.  

2. Seeking emergency help. Not seeking treatment immediately may increase the extent of permanent heart damage and the chances of heart failure, or death. Unfortunately, many patients experiencing a heart attack (even those who have had one before) wait too long to seek medical help. Emergency personnel can begin treatment before the patient reaches the hospital. Meanwhile, the patient must lie down, breathe deeply and slowly, and try to stay calm while waiting for help to arrive. If calling emergency services is not possible, the patient could be transferred to the hospital by any available means of transport. However, the patient should not drive alone, unless there is absolutely no other alternative.  

3. Medications. The patient could chew a regular-dose aspirin (with a glass of water); aspirin helps prevent blood clots. Moreover, patients who have been prescribed nitroglycerin tablets or spray for angina, could take 1-3 doses to see whether symptoms are relieved. 

4. Keeping a list. Each patient should write down a list regarding medications, allergies, doctors' phone numbers, and emergency contact information. Copies of this information must be kept in several places, such as at home, at work, in the car, and in the wallet or purse so the patient can readily access it anywhere during an emergency.

5. Family education. Family members, friends and people close to patients with previous heart disorders should be informed for the warning signs of a heart attack, and the required actions during an emergency. Participating in a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class is always advisable.