Heart attack first aid


A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack.

The average person waits 3 hours before seeking help for symptoms of a heart attack. Many heart attack patients die before they reach a hospital. The sooner the person gets to the emergency room, the better the chance of survival. Prompt medical treatment reduces the amount of heart damage.

This article discusses what to do if you think someone may be having a heart attack.

For more information on the condition itself, see: Heart attack.

Alternative Names

First aid - heart attack; First aid - cardiopulmonary arrest; First aid - cardiac arrest


A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that carries oxygen to the heart is blocked. The heart muscle becomes starved for oxygen and begins to die. See: Heart attack


Symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. They may be mild or severe. Women, the elderly, and people with diabetes are more likely to have subtle or unusual symptoms.

Symptoms in adults may include:

First Aid

If you think someone is having a heart attack:


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if the person:


Adults should take steps to control heart disease risk factors whenever possible.


Hollander JE. Acute coronary syndromes. Acute myocardial infarction and unstable angina. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 50.

Anderson JL, Adams CD, Antman EM, Bridges CR, Califf RM, Casey DE Jr., et al. ACC/AHA 2007 guidelines for the management of patients with unstable angina/non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 2002 Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Unstable Angina/Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) developed in collaboration with the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons endorsed by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007;50:e1-e157.

Brady WJ, Harrigan RA, Chan TC. Acute coronary syndrome. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 76.

In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009.

Review Date: 7/16/2011
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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