African American man holding his chest.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. A heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the heart.
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’d do. But what if a heart attack happens when you’re alone, can you survive it? Here’s what to do.
1. The first thing to do is to call for emergency help.
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 112 if in Ghana). You need specialised treatment to be delivered to you as quickly as possible in order to save your heart muscle.
2. Take an aspirin (if you are not allergic to it)
Aspirin 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.
If you have aspirin at home, and you know that you are not allergic to it, then you could consider taking it while waiting for the emergency medical services to arrive.
3. Lie down and stay calm
Don’t panic! Stay calm, lie down and rest while waiting for help from the ambulance service or your neighbor.
4. Do not rely on just taking nitroglycerin
Taking a prescribed medication such as nitroglycerin that temporarily widens blood vessels to improve blood supply to the heart is unlikely to stop a heart attack. You still need to call for help.
5. Do not cough repeatedly(try to control your cough)
For self-administered “treatments” such as coughing repeatedly, Assoc Prof Chin cautions that these are probably just urban legends.
6. Do not apply pressure on the chest
Similar to coughing repeatedly will not help during a heart attack, applying pressure on the chest area during a heart attack is unlikely to help too, unless the person’s heart has stopped beating (also known as a cardiac arrest)..
SYMPTOMS OF A HEART ATTACK
To know for sure if you’re suffering from a heart attack, you first need to be able to identify its symptoms. Classical symptoms of a heart attack include:
1. 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.
2. Pain that radiates to the left upper arm, neck or jaw.
3. Profuse sweating and a feeling of impending doom.
4. Shortness of breath
5. Mild chest pain
6. Nausea, vomiting
7. Pain in the epigastric region (upper central portion of the abdomen)
By Rexford Dede Baah-Nyarkoh