Heart Attack: When and How To Respond With First Aid

This is also known as myocardial infarction and it is a situation where a coronary artery is totally blocked and the cardiac muscle is not getting enough blood. It is a very serious situation, one which can result in death very quickly. In fact, it is the number one cause of death in adults in North America.

Causes of Heart Attacks

The causes of heart disease are quite complex, but it basically has to do with plaque building up inside the walls of the arteries which ultimately prevent adequate blood from getting through. This plaque builds up for and there are many risk factors that can increase the chance of build-up. Many risk factors are long term activities that are modifiable such as:

  • Smoking,
  • Lack of exercise,
  • Being obese,
  • Having poor eating habits.
  • Having high blood pressure (hypertension).

There are also risk factors which are considered non-modifiable i.e. you have very little control over them. These include:


Preventing heart attacks involves modifying the risk factors so coronary artery disease does not happen. Along with health behavior, getting regular check-ups can also help detect problems before a heart attack occurs.

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

The major symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort that persists for 10 minutes or more. This pain may be similar to pain caused by indigestion or muscle spasms. Bried, stabbing chest pains or pain that gets worse when you bend or breathe deeply is usually not caused bya heart attack.

  • Severe pain in the chest, arms, shoulders, neck, and even the upper back.
  • Tightness or discomfort in the upper body.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Fast irregular pulse.
  • Excessive sweating and a moist face.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Pale, bluish skin.

First Aid for Heart Attacks

If you believe someone is having a heart attack, you should;

  • Immediately call 9-1-1.
  • Make the person comfortable (e.g. semi-sitting)
  • Ask them if they have any medical conditions or if they have any medications they normally take for this.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Do not give them any food or drinks.
  • If they become unconscious, and you are trained, begin rescue breathing and/or CPR
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