In the United States, heart disease stands as the leading cause of mortality, taking around 695,547 lives a year. This statistic includes heart attacks, which can occur even without warning, often striking when least expected.
That is exactly what happened to Chandramouli Ganesan from Plano, TX, who experienced a heart attack during a run he did almost every day. He had no prior symptoms or signs and believed he was as healthy as possible. It was the quick thinking of a passerby who called 911 and the prompt response of paramedics who administered CPR, that saved his life.
But, as a bystander, can you do CPR on a heart attack victim? Immediately giving CPR to someone in cardiac arrest can significantly improve their chances of surviving until professional help arrives, but is the same true for victims of a heart attack? Below, we’ll see what a heart attack is and what you can do to help a person experiencing it.
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, medically referred to as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or completely cut off. This happens because the coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle with blood, become narrowed by a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, collectively known as plaque.
When the plaque in a heart artery ruptures, a blood clot forms which can cut off the blood flow completely. During a heart attack, the heart muscle tissue, getting blood from that artery, begins to die.
In Texas, just like the rest of the U.S., heart disease is the number one leading cause of death, with heart attacks being a significant contributor. According to the STEMI Report for 2020, 38.6 out of every 100,000 Texans have died of a heart attack. This highlights the importance of being well-informed about the nature of heart attacks and knowing critical response measures, including CPR, that can save lives.
How to Recognize the Signs of a Heart Attack
When a heart attack occurs, the symptoms can vary significantly among individuals. However, there are key signs that you should be aware of:
- Chest pain – Most heart attack victims experience discomfort or pain in the center or left side of their chest. That sensation might last for a few minutes, or it might go away and come back. It can feel like pressure, fullness, or squeezing.
- Upper body discomfort – You might feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.
- Shortness of breath – You can get short of breath even before chest discomfort develops or without any chest pain.
Other possible symptoms can include:
- Cold sweat
- Sudden dizziness
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue
It’s essential to note that not all people who have heart attacks experience the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms. Some heart attacks are silent and go unnoticed, or the symptoms are mild and mistaken for indigestion or muscle pain.
It’s also important to recognize that men and women may experience heart attacks differently. Women are more likely to experience some of the other signs, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. That is one of the reasons why heart disease goes undiagnosed in 64.5% of women.
What to Do in Case of a Heart Attack
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you suspect someone is having a heart attack, your actions can be the difference between life and death. You should remain calm and try to assess the situation as best you can by doing the following:
- Check for signs of a heart attack: Those may include chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea.
- Call for emergency services: Give them the necessary information and follow their instructions while you wait for help to arrive.
- Check the victim’s responsiveness: Gently tap their shoulder and loudly ask if they’re okay. If they respond and breathe, remain with them and monitor their condition.
- Give them medication: if the victim is responsive, ask if they take any heart medications like nitroglycerin, as this may help alleviate their symptoms.
- Start CPR if needed: If the person is unresponsive and not breathing or only gasping for air, they may have gone into cardiac arrest. In this case, starting CPR is crucial to increase their chance of survival.
Step-by-step Guide to Performing CPR on a Heart Attack Victim
Not every heart attack ends up with the person going into cardiac arrest, but if that does happen the next step is to do CPR. If you’re unsure of what to do or don’t have any CPR training, the best course of action is performing hands-only CPR on them. Make sure you follow these steps:
- Ensure the person is on a firm surface and lying flat on their back while you kneel beside their chest.
- The heel of your hand goes in the middle of the victim’s chest. Then place your other hand on top, and interlock the fingers.
- The elbows must be straight and your shoulders must be directly above your hands.
- Push down hard and fast using your body weight, compressing the chest at least two inches deep.
- Keep a steady tempo at a rate of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute.
- Continue these compressions without interruption until emergency medical personnel arrive or the person begins to show signs of life.
Adding Rescue Breaths
If you have CPR training, especially if you are helping a child or an infant, you should also provide rescue breaths. Do 30 chest compressions, then give the victim two rescue breaths. Tilt the victim’s head back slightly and lift their chin to open the airway. Pinch their nose shut, take a normal breath, cover their mouth with yours to create an airtight seal, and blow into their mouth for one second, watching for the chest to rise. If done correctly, this technique ensures oxygen is delivered to the lungs.
Using an AED
In addition to CPR, using an Automated External Defibrillator can be vital in saving a heart attack victim’s life. The AED can automatically diagnose life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and treat them through defibrillation. If you’re in a public place, ask bystanders to look for an AED while you perform CPR.
- When you have an AED, first turn it on, which will initiate voice prompts.
- Expose the person’s chest and affix the sticky pads as indicated by the diagrams on the pads.
- The AED will analyze the victim’s heart rhythm and instruct you to press the shock button if necessary.
- It’s important to ensure no one is touching the person when the AED is analyzing or delivering a shock.
- If no further shocks are advised, immediately resume CPR for another 2 minutes before the AED reanalyzes.
Common Misconceptions about CPR and Heart Attacks
One of the most prevalent myths about heart attacks is that all victims clutch their chests dramatically before collapsing. In reality, symptoms can be subtle, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness, especially in women.
You might also believe CPR is always the answer, but it’s inappropriate in every situation. For instance, if a person is still breathing or has a pulse, starting chest compressions can do more harm than good. You should only perform CPR when someone is unresponsive and not breathing normally.
It’s also worth noting that the CPR techniques you need to do on adults, children, and infants are different, so tailor your approach accordingly. Many people are afraid they might injure the person by performing CPR incorrectly. Still, the risk of harming is outweighed by the potential to keep the person alive until professional help arrives.
CPR and Heart Attacks: Final Thoughts
So, can you do CPR on a heart attack victim? Performing CPR on a heart attack victim can be a life-saving measure, but it’s essential to recognize when it’s necessary. You should administer CPR only if the person experiencing a heart attack goes into cardiac arrest and stops breathing or becomes unresponsive.
Your actions can significantly increase their chances of survival until emergency services arrive. By learning CPR in Plano, Texas, you will equip yourself with the skills to provide critical support in a moment of need. This knowledge isn’t just for medical professionals—it’s for anyone willing to step up for another person experiencing a medical emergency.
Don’t hesitate to sign up for a CPR course – empower yourself with the ability to save a life.