Surviving a Heart Attack Alone

May 17, 2019

Woman experiencing a heart attack
Kyleigh Roessner RN-BSN

Maybe it's a fiercely individualistic streak or a real concern that heart attacks can strike at any moment, but there are a fair few Google searches asking the question, "Can you survive a heart attack without medical help?"

The short answer is, "No." The long answer is, "Maybe, but at what cost to your long-term quality of life?"

Surviving a heart attack alone is possible, but without immediate, professional intervention, you run the risk of death or long-term disability. Heart attacks are a medical emergency, you need emergency services as soon as possible to improve the likelihood of survival, and to prevent living with a weakened heart.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should be receiving emergency care within one hour of the initial heart attack; unfortunately, only one person in five actually makes it there in that first hour. Delaying receiving emergency services increases the likelihood of long-term chronic heart problems like congestive heart failure.

Knowing the Risk Factors

First, understanding the factors that make you or your loved one at risk for a heart attack. The CDC has broken down the risk factors into three main categories, health conditions, personal behaviors and genetics/personal characteristics.

Conditions that increase your risk:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Behaviors that increase your risk:

Personal Characteristics:

  • Genetic predisposition for heart attacks and heart disease
  • Advancing age — older people have a higher risk for heart attack
  • Complex racial and biological sex factors that can contribute to heart attack risk

Knowing the Symptoms

Now that you know if you or a loved one is at risk, knowing the symptoms is extremely important to surviving a heart attack alone or with other people around.

The Cleveland Clinic lists the following symptoms of heart attack:

  • Chest pain that starts suddenly and gets increasingly worse
  • Pain can also show up in the jaw, the throat, arm, stomach or back
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Heartburn/Indigestion feelings
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat or feeling like your heart is racing
  • Fatigue and weakness

If you experience these symptoms, call 911. Don't try and treat this condition at home. The sooner you arrive at the hospital, the more heart tissue can be saved, improving your chances of survival and reducing the risk of long-term disability.

Waiting for Emergency Medical Services

After you call for an ambulance, you can take some of the following steps until they arrive. If you are having a heart attack alone, notify someone nearby after you have called emergency medical services. Don't attempt to drive yourself to the hospital or to have someone drive you, unless an ambulance is not available. Some treatment can begin as soon as the paramedics arrive, and your condition may worsen creating an even more dangerous situation.

You can take an aspirin if it does not interfere with some of your other medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. A nitroglycerin tablet can also be taken according to your doctor's orders. These medications may reduce the damage caused by the heart attack, but you still need professional medical attention immediately.

So, can you survive a heart attack without medical help? It's possible but not at all advisable. Your long-term health and quality of life are at stake, so know the risks, know the symptoms, and call 911 right away.

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