Heart Attack First Aid


A heart attack happens when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

Lots of people make a full recovery from a heart attack, but there’s a serious risk that the heart might stop beating – called a cardiac arrest.

It’s vital that you treat someone having a heart attack straight away, otherwise they could die.

People who have angina are more likely to have a heart attack. Angina happens when the arteries to the heart become narrow and the heart muscle can’t get enough blood. This can happen when someone’s doing a physical activity but is even more of a concern if it happens at rest.

Angina pain is usually a tight chest pain, which may ease if they rest straight away and take angina medication, and may only last a few minutes. If the pain lasts longer, presume it’s a heart attack.

What to look for – Heart attack

If you think someone is having a heart attack, look for the four Ps:

  1. Pain – a continuous pain in the chest, which could spread to the jaw, neck or arms
  2. Pale skin
  3. Rapid and weak pulse
  4. Perspiration/sweating

Symptoms in adults may include:

  • Changes in mental status, especially in older adults
  • Chest pain that feels like pressure, squeezing, or fullness. The pain is usually in the center of the chest. It may also be felt in the jaw, shoulder, arms, back, and stomach. It can last for more than a few minutes, or come and go.
  • Cold sweat
  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea (more common in women)
  • Numbness, aching, or tingling in the arm (usually the left arm, but the right arm may be affected alone, or along with the left)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or fatigue, especially in older adults and in women

What you need to do – Heart attack

  • Call your area rescue/emergency number for medical help and say you think someone is having a heart attack.
  • Then, help move them into the most comfortable position. The best position is on the floor leaning against a wall with knees bent and head and shoulders supported. This should ease the pressure on their heart and stop them hurting themselves if they collapse.
  • Give them a 300mg aspirin, if available and they’re not allergic, and tell them to chew it slowly.
  • Loosen any tight clothing.
  • Ask if the person takes any chest pain medication, such as nitroglycerin, for a known heart condition, and help them take it.
  • Be aware that they may develop shock. Shock does not mean emotional shock, but is a life-threatening condition, which can be brought on by a heart attack.
  • Keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response.
  • If they lose responsiveness at any point, open their airway, check their breathing, and prepare to treat someone who has become unresponsive. You may need to do CPR.
  • Begin CPR if the person is unconscious. If you’re with a person who might be having a heart attack and he or she is unconscious, tell the resque dispatcher or another emergency medical specialist. You may be advised to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you haven’t received CPR training, doctors recommend skipping mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and performing only chest compressions (about 100 per minute). The dispatcher can instruct you in the proper procedures until help arrives.
  • If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available and the person is unconscious, begin CPR while the device is retrieved and set up. Attach the device and follow instructions that will be provided by the AED after it has evaluated the person’s condition.


  • Do NOT leave the person alone except to call for help, if necessary.
  • Do NOT allow the person to deny the symptoms and convince you not to call for emergency help.
  • Do NOT wait to see if the symptoms go away.
  • Do NOT give the person anything by mouth unless a heart medication (such as nitroglycerin) has been prescribed.