Typically, heart attacks block the flow of blood, which carries oxygen, to the heart. So, taking steps to minimize oxygen loss as soon as trouble starts is critical, Dr. Everett explains, adding, “It’s especially important to stay alert and take action at the first sign of distress.”
Heart attacks can happen at any age. And being physically active won’t necessarily eliminate your risk. However, getting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately, when someone is unresponsive and doesn’t have a pulse whether after a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest, can dramatically increase the chances of survival.
Every year, an estimated 735,000 adult Americans suffer a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, nearly 120,000 of these men and women will not survive.
“When it comes to surviving a heart attack, every second counts. Starting CPR immediately and continuing chest compressions until Emergency Medical Services arrive can dramatically increase your chances of survival,” says Dr. Marlon Everett, a cardiologist at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago.
If you believe you’re witnessing someone having sudden cardiac arrest, Dr. Everett recommends following these two steps:
- Call 911 immediately
- Start CPR
But how do you know if you’re witnessing someone having a heart attack? Dr. Everett offers these four signs that should put you on alert:
- A pained facial expression: Heart attack can be accompanied by pain. If you notice someone wince from and/or describe discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm, be alert. This troubling sign can last more than a few minutes, or it may subside and come back later.
- Rubbing or complaining about pain between the neck and navel: Some people experiencing a heart attack describe feeling as if an elephant is sitting on their chest. Pay attention if you notice signs of discomfort, pressure or pain in the arm, chest or under the breastbone.
- Gasping for air: Shortness of breath is a sign of heart attack. This signal may also be accompanied by weakness, anxiety or rapid, irregular heartbeats.
- Unexplained sweating. Breaking out into a sweat for no reason or profuse sweating may be a sign of trouble. If nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness are also present, you may have reason to stay watchful.
Dr. Everett is medical director of the Advocate Trinity Hospital Athletes Know CPR training program, which teaches recreational athletes the basics of CPR. To date, this program has trained over 1,000 community and high school student athletes to save lives using CPR.