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Heart attacks are a common cause of death worldwide, including India. Even though a heart attack can be fatal, but there are ways a person can survive the heart attack provided prompt action is taken to prevent damage. Acting quickly can improve the chances of survival of a patient. Here is what a person can do if experiencing a heart attack.

Recognize the Symptoms

Most often heart attacks begin slowly with just minor discomfort and pain, giving mild warning symptoms before striking. However, the intensity of symptoms depends on the age, gender and the general medical condition of the person. In case a person experiences any of the following symptoms, quick action must be taken to improve survival chances and reduce damage.

Warning signs

  • Discomfort in the chest which feels like pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain and lasts for more than 3-4 minutes and is recurrent
  • Pain and sudden discomfort which spreads to the upper body from the chest. The pain usually shifts to the arms, back, neck, stomach, teeth and jaw
  • Acute shortness of breath without a cause. This may or may not be accompanied with chest pain

Other Symptoms include:

  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue and extreme weakness

In some cases, women are likely to experience some additional symptoms such as neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal pain.

What to do when experiencing these symptoms?

If you or someone you know is experiencing any or many of the above symptoms and warning signs, one must call for an ambulance immediately. It is best to call the ambulance since the treatment can begin earlier. However, if there is a delay in the ambulance service, the patient can be driven to the nearest hospital. But in case, you are experiencing a heart attack and are all by yourself, it is not advisable to drive unless absolutely necessary. You should immediately call the ambulance and inform your family or close friend to get timely help.

What to do before emergency help arrives?

Apart from acting quickly and calling the ambulance, a person near the patient or the patient itself should follow these simple steps to increase chances of survival:

  • Stay calm and sit or lie down per comfort
  • Administer CPR right away

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an emergency lifesaving technique that is performed when the heart stops beating. This procedure is performed immediately to keep the flow of blood and oxygen running through the body when the person’s heart and breathing have stopped due various reasons such as heart attack, drowning, etc. CPR can be initiated by any person – untrained bystander or medical personnel – and involves basic chest compressions and rescue breathing. CPR has to be initiated in the order of CAB – Compressions, Airway and Breathing.

How to do CPR when the heart suddenly stops?

CPR can be performed via two methods – Hands-only and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It is recommended that an untrained person performs only a hands-only CPR.

Hands-only CPR

Hands-only CPR is the primary recommendation for people who are untrained. It involves the following steps:

Surveying the scene: Foremost, the person willing to help should assess if it is safe to help and reach the person in need.

Open airways and ask for a response: Shake the shoulders of the concerned person and enquire if they are okay. In case of a child or infant, check the reaction by tapping the foot. In case, the person is not responsive, immediately call an ambulance. However, if the person in question is a child between 1-8 years or is a victim of drowning, it is important to begin CPR first and then call for emergency.

Assess the heart with an automated external defibrillator (AED): In case an automated external defibrillator is readily accessible, use it to check the rhythm of heart. An AED machine will also guide you to deliver one electric shock before performing chest compressions. But in case of children between ages 1 to 8, it is best to perform chest compressions for the first two minutes before using the AED machine. For infants and children under the age of one year, AED is not recommended and only CPR should be followed. In case, AED is not available, chest compressions should be immediately started irrespective of the age or condition.

Place hands appropriately: In case of an adult,put the heel of one of your hands in the middle of the chest, while placing the other hand on top of the other. Once firm, interlock your raise the hands up while keeping the heels intact between the nipples on the chest. In case of children till the age of 8, only one hand should be used to give chest compressions. In case of infants, mere two fingers should be used.

Begin CPR: In case of an adult, push down on the chest at least 2 inches by using your upper body for force. These compressions should be performed at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute, while giving time to the chest to recoil between compressions. In case of children between 1 to 8 years, the same procedure should be followed but with one hand placed between the nipples on the chest. However, for an infant, use your upper body and one finger placed in the centre of the chest to push straight down at 1.5 inches at the rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minutes, meanwhile allowing the chest to recoil between compressions.

Continue Compressions: Keep up with the compressions until the person starts tobreathe or medical help is received.

Mouth-to-Mouth CPR

The foremost step to save lives in an emergency should be to provide chest compressions immediately, enabling the oxygen in lungs and bloodstream to flow to the brain and heart without delay. Once, the chest compressions as per the method above are followed, you need to go a step further and provide mouth-to-mouth CPR by the following methods:

Open the airway: Place your palm on person’s forehead and gently tilt the head slightly backwards; then lift the chin forward while keeping the hand on the forehead. For infants and children, mere tilting the head slightly will open the airways.

Provide rescue breaths: Once the airways are open, you have to close the nostrils of the person and close/seal the person’s mouth with a CPR face mask. In case of infants, both the mouth and nose should be covered with a CPR mask. In case a CPR mask is not readily available, you need to cover the person’s mouth with yours and provide two rescue breaths for about one second each.  With each rescue breath, the chest of the person should rise.

Alternate rescue breathing along with chest compressions: Continue to perform 30 compressionsfollowed with two rescue breaths till the time a person begins to breathe normally or a medical help is received.

In all, CPR can effectively help save lives provided it is initiated timely and carried out appropriately. Moreover, a lot of hospitals, education institutions, government agencies, etc. provide training on CPR.

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