Healthy Living

Be Proactive: What to Do During Heart Attacks and Other Cardiovascular Emergencies

Jul. 1, 2024

Being prepared and taking early action during sudden heart health emergencies can make a huge difference. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you get the care you need.

What Are Cardiovascular Emergencies?

Your cardiovascular system is your heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries) that circulate blood, deliver oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products throughout your body.

Cardiovascular emergencies are urgent medical conditions involving the heart or blood vessels that can lead to severe health complications or death if not treated immediately.

Heart Attack vs. Cardiac Arrest: And Other Common Cardiovascular Emergencies

Heart Attack
When the flow of blood to a part of the heart is blocked long enough for heart muscle tissue to be damaged or die.

Cardiac Arrest
When the heart suddenly stops beating, stopping blood flow to the brain and other vital organs.

When the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted or significantly reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Pulmonary Embolism
A blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs prevents blood from reaching lung tissue.

Heart Failure
A chronic condition where the heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should. Acute decompensated heart failure is a sudden and severe worsening of heart failure symptoms.

Hypertensive Crisis
A severe and dangerous increase in blood pressure with readings often higher than 180/120 mmHg.

How to Help Yourself During a Cardiovascular Emergency

Before an Emergency Happens

We never want an emergency to happen, but you can increase your odds of survival and a better or quicker recovery by being prepared.

iPhone displaying the MyChart log in screen.
  • Organize Medications: Keep your medications organized and in a consistent place.
  • Prepare an Emergency Kit: Include essential items like aspirin, nitroglycerin (if prescribed), and a full, up-to-date list of your medications and medical conditions.
  • Update Medical Records: Ensure that your medical records are up-to-date and accessible.
  • Set Up Emergency Contacts: Add contacts to your phone, health records management system, medical alert jewelry, and smartwatch (e.g., the SOS feature on the iPhone).
  • Wear Medical Alert Jewelry: This provides critical information to responders.

  • Install Medical Alert Apps: These can notify emergency contacts that you need help and provide your location.
  • Enable Smartphone GPS: This helps emergency services locate you quickly.
  • Have a HeartSafe Home Plan and Action Plan: Make sure your home is ready to respond to emergencies.
Apple watch with medical ID settings open
  • Utilize Smart Home Devices: Your devices may have emergency support capabilities or allow you to set up emergency protocols with devices like voice commands to unlock doors, turn on lights, call 911, and alert emergency contacts.
  • Take a first aid and CPR course.
  • Educate Your Family: Teach family members and caregivers about the signs and symptoms of a cardiovascular emergency and the steps to take if one occurs.
  • Practice Emergency Drills: Ensure everyone knows their role during a cardiovascular emergency.

What To Do
During a Heart Emergency

Know the symptoms of cardiovascular emergencies and act quickly.

  • Stay on the Phone with 911: Follow their instructions and get support until help arrives.
  • Unlock Doors and Turn on Lights: Help emergency responders find and access you quickly.
  • Loosen Tight Clothing: This aids in comfort and breathing.
  • Sit Down in a Lazy W Position: Prop yourself comfortably against a wall or stable furniture.
  • Avoid Physical Exertion: Keep breathing calmly.
If you think you’re having a heart attack, take nitroglycerin if you have a prescription. If you are not allergic to Asprin and have it available, chew one regular-strength (325 mg) aspirin or four baby aspirin (81 mg each).

What Not To Do During A Heart Emergency

What Not To Do During A Heart Emergency: DON’T drive yourself to the hospital. DON’T eat or drink. DON’T take  over-the-counter medication.

DON'T Drive Yourself to the Hospital: Ambulances are equipped with life-saving medical equipment and staffed by trained paramedics who can provide essential care, such as administering medications, performing CPR, and using defibrillators. Don't risk getting in an accident or stuck in traffic when your life is on the line.

DON’T Eat or Drink: Eating or drinking can interfere with emergency treatment and may cause choking or aspiration (breathing food or liquid into the lungs).

DON’T Take Over-the-counter Medications: Some medications can worsen heart conditions or interact negatively with prescribed treatments.

Every Second Counts

By understanding the types of cardiovascular emergencies, recognizing the symptoms, and knowing what actions to take, you empower yourself and your loved ones to respond effectively when every second counts.

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