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How to Deal with an Incoming Heart Attack – 5 Surprisingly Simple Tips

November 30, 2022

Updated May 2023

This week’s guest post explains what a heart attack feels like and the immediate steps you can take to minimise complications if you are alone when it happens.

Graphic with image of man gripping his chest during a heart attack

A heart attack and other cardiovascular problems can be frightening, especially if you’re alone or it’s your first time experiencing it.

Amid all the pain, it can be challenging to remember what to do.

Heart attack symptoms

How to Recognise a Heart Attack

As such, it’s crucial to know and understand the symptoms of a heart attack and familiarize yourself with what you should do in the event one strikes.

However, heart attacks are tricky because they don’t always come with the usual symptoms you might expect. This makes it harder to recognize the signs.

However, one of the common signs is feeling an awful tightening in your chest and unexplained shortness of breath.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Light-headedness (feeling faint or dizzy),
  • Nausea,
  • Fatigue,
  • Cold sweats and
  • Indigestion.

Remember that in women, heart attack symptoms may appear different from the classic presentation above.

So ladies, please seek medical advice if you feel unwell and are over 40 years old with a family history of heart disease or have high blood pressure and other risk factors.

Causes of a Heart Attack

Many types of heart diseases can lead to a heart attack.

For example, a congenital heart defect (i.e., one you are born with) can affect various parts of the heart. Another type is cardiac arrhythmia, where the heart has flaws in electrical impulses, resulting in irregular heartbeats. 

Another one is coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart tissue.

This disease is one of the most common causes of heart attacks as it restricts the blood supply that carries oxygen to the heart due to hardened plaque build-up.

If you have this, it’s best to know what you can do when you feel an oncoming heart attack, especially when you’re alone.

Man lying on sofa in chest pain from incoming heart attack

What to do When You Feel An Oncoming Heart Attack

  • Stop whatever you’re doing immediately.

You may experience symptoms like chest pains or trouble breathing as the attack begins.

Once you feel them, don’t ignore these signs of an oncoming heart attack.

Instead, stop whatever you’re doing, sit down, and put your feet up. Doing so is better than straining yourself from moving around too much, which can further agitate the symptoms.

If there’s nothing nearby to lean on, lie down on the floor or couch and rest your feet on something higher than your head.

Breathe slowly and deeply until the pain subsides. Try to calm yourself down for a few minutes before standing up again. 

  • Call your emergency services hotline.

While resting, you should call for help immediately. Tell the responders everything that’s happening, especially your symptoms and location. This is so they can know how to walk you through and get to you as soon as possible. 

If you’re outside, ask someone to call an ambulance. An oncoming heart attack may make it difficult for you to talk, so having someone else speak for you can make it easier for you and your responder. 

The sooner they get an ECG/EKG (electrocardiogram) reading from your heart, the better their chance of knowing what’s happening.

Another tip is always to have your emergency contacts and medical IDs ready. This will help responders identify the people to notify and know your medical history.

Older lady holding the middle of her chest, aware heart attack symptoms may appear differently in women
  • Go to the emergency room (ER) or emergency department (ED)

Heart attacks can also happen when you’re alone at home, and emergency services may take a while to get to you.

In that case, wait a few minutes before carefully standing up and driving yourself to the nearest ER.

However, you should only do so if the situation calls for it, i.e., you have no other option; and feel able to drive.

If you are feeling faint (lightheaded or dizzy) or in severe pain, do not drive as you may be unable to control the car, or the efforts can make things worse.

  • Take Aspirin.

Immediate action may save your life by reducing blood clotting and inflammation in your arteries. Waiting for emergency services, at home or outside, may take time.

As such, taking aspirin may help as it prevents blood clots from forming in your coronary arteries. These arteries are the ones that supply blood to your heart. 

If it’s hard to swallow, crush the tablet for easier ingestion. However, do not intake if you are allergic to the medication.

  • Take the prescribed dosage of Nitroglycerin (GTN)

This tip applies to individuals who may already be at risk of having a heart attack. You may have a condition known as Angina. In this case, you get pain or discomfort in the chest that most often happens with exertion and goes away when you rest. This indicates some degree of coronary disease and a risk of a future heart attack.

When you have a heart attack, you may feel pain or discomfort in your chest and experience shortness of breath. Nitroglycerin is a drug that can help alleviate these symptoms, but it’s essential to know how it works before taking it. It comes in many forms, including a pump dispensing spray, GTN (Glyceryl trinitrate) pump or Nitroglycerin tablets

This medicine works by opening up blood vessels to reduce the blood pressure in your body. Doing so can prevent further damage to your heart.

However, you can only get this with a doctor’s prescription. As such, make sure you follow the correct dosage given to you.

Immediately you feel chest pain, stop whatever you are doing and use your GTN spray (or tablets) applied under the tongue.

Next Steps

There’s no way to know if you’ll ever have to deal with a heart attack alone. However, there are ways you can prepare. Understanding the risks, learning how to reduce them, and responding effectively in an emergency could be life-saving.

Lastly, always remember that prevention is better than cure. Knowing the different cardiovascular disease risk factors and making an effort to live healthier can help you avoid heart attacks best.

Let us know if you found this article helpful – talk to us if you need more information about your heart health.

More Reading

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality healthcare. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Please contact a health practitioner to discuss your condition or reach us directly 

Image Credits: Canva

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