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Ask Dr. Nandi: Here's how to help someone survive a heart attack

Posted at 5:57 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-05 17:57:45-05

February is heart health month, and it’s a perfect time to remind people about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

It’s also important to know what to do if you suspect you or a loved one is about to have a cardiac event.

The technical name for a heart attack is a myocardial infarction, and it happens when the blood flow to the heart is cut off or severely reduced.

More than 750,000 Americans have these every year, and many of them don’t survive. But the chances of death occurring as a result of a heart attack can be seriously reduced if you know what to do. 

Sometimes heart attacks come on quickly and without warning, but more often than not there are subtle signs beforehand.

Severe chest pains are one of the most characteristic signs, but not everyone feels it in their chest.

Women oftentimes do not. Fatigue, random upper-body discomfort, and shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and lingers for days or weeks...all of these could be symptoms of a looming cardiac event.

Knowing the warning signs is critical — but there are other things people can do, as well. One of them is to learn CPR. Many studies have shown that this life-saving procedure is one of the essential factors in determining whether someone who’s had a heart attack will survive.

It’s also a good idea to know all of the relevant medical information for each member of your family and to keep a medical kit packed with aspirin and nitroglycerin handy.

Here are my prescriptions.

  1. Call 911 immediately, even if you’re not sure the person is having a heart attack.
  2. Start performing CPR, even if you've never been officially trained. The American Heart Association recommends that untrained bystanders perform “hands-only” CPR to keep blood flowing until help arrives. Go to for more details.
  3. Look around for an AED, or automated external defibrillator. These use electricity to restart the heart. Read the instructions and use it in an emergency. 
  4. If the person is conscious, try to find aspirin. Please give them 325 mg aspirin waiting for help to arrive.

Critical information that may prove to be life saving!