First Aid

What to Do If Someone is Having a Heart Attack?

Kamrul Hasan
Kamrul Hasan

Heart attacks can be a life-threatening situation, and knowing what to do if someone is having a heart attack can make all the difference. Imagine you’re at home with your loved ones, and suddenly, someone starts experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea. What do you do? The best option to be ready for such a situation is to educate yourself on first aid for heart attacks.

In this write-up, we will explore how to recognise heart attack symptoms, what to do in an emergency, and how to give first aid treatment until medical professionals arrive. So, whether you are a bystander witnessing a heart attack or someone who may be at risk of experiencing one, this blog is for you.

Let’s get started without further adieu.

Realising the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack is crucial because their treatment and first aid measures vary, and acting quickly can improve the chances of recovery. So let’s explore those two first.

Stethoscope note with phrase heart attack and small red heart on wooden background

Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack

Cardiac arrest is like a power outage in your heart. It occurs when the heart abruptly stops beating, and blood stops flowing to the body. This can cause a person to collapse, lose consciousness, and stop breathing suddenly.

On the contrary, a heart attack is like a clogged pipe in your heart, which can cause shortness of breath, chest discomfort, and other symptoms. It takes place when the blood supply to the heart is reduced, but the heart is still beating.

blog-star Ready to master life-saving CPR skills and be prepared for any emergency situation?

Study Plex's Basic Life Support and Paediatric First Aid Certification Online can help! In this course, you'll master the art of CPR and be equipped with the skills to manage emergencies, heal wounds or injuries, and understand the legislation governing basic life support. Enrol now and be the one who can make a difference in someone's life!

While heart attack and cardiac arrest can have similar symptoms, they are two different things that require different treatments. Knowing their differences can help you take the right actions to help someone in need.

It is crucial to realise the signs of a heart attack, as prompt medical attention can raise the chances of survival and reduce the risk of complications. The National Health Service / NHS has delivered a list of common symptoms of a heart attack, which include:

Close-up of sad cartoon anatomical heart

Heart Attack Symptoms by NHS

The following signs indicate a heart attack, according to the NHS.

  • Chest Pain: Chest discomfort that can feel like pressure, squeezing, or pain that lasts for several minutes or occurs intermittently.
  • Pain or Discomfort in Other Areas of the Upper Body: The pain may radiate from the chest to other areas such as the left arm (but not limited to), jaw, neck, back, and abdomen.
  • Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded
  • Sweating
  • Breathing Issues
  • Feeling Sick (Nausea) / Being Sick (Vomiting)
  • Feeling extremely anxious, similar to a panic attack.
  • Coughing / Wheezing

It’s important to note that while the most common symptom in men and women is chest pain, women are more prone to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, feeling or being sick, and back or jaw pain.

Learn the essential ABCs of First Aid in our latest blog, and be prepared to handle any emergency situation with confidence!

Heartbeat test image with stethoscope and small red heart

First Aid for Heart Attack

Experiencing or witnessing a heart attack can be stressful and overwhelming, but taking immediate first aid steps can save a life. So, if you suspect someone is having a heart attack, the initial thing to do is to call for emergency medical help by dialing 999 or 112 or connecting with nearby healthcare institutions. While waiting for medical help to come, you can take a few first-aid measures to improve the person’s chances of survival.

W Position

The W position is a recommended position for someone experiencing a heart attack. It can help reduce the discomfort in the person’s chest, relieving the chest pain associated with a heart attack. It can also improve blood supply to the heart and other vital organs, which is crucial during a heart attack.

To help someone sit in the W position during a heart attack, follow these steps:

  • Ask the person to sit on the floor or a sturdy chair with their back against a wall or support. This will assist in preventing them from falling over or losing their balance.
  • Have the person bend their knees and put their feet flat on the ground.
  • Ask them to spread their legs out in front of them, with their knees pointing upwards.
  • Have them lean forward slightly, with their elbows resting on their knees.
  • Ask them to make a “W” shape with their arms and hands clasped in front of their chest.
  • Encourage the person to take slow, deep breaths and to try to relax.

Administer Aspirin If Available

If the person is conscious and not allergic to aspirin, you can ask them to chew a low dose of aspirin slowly (around 300mg) to help reduce blood clotting and ease chest pain. However, always check with medical professionals before administering aspirin.

  • Avoid giving aspirin to the victim if they are below 16 or if they are allergic to it.

Keep the Person Calm and Reassured

Panic and anxiety can worsen the situation, so it’s vital to help the person stay calm and reassure them that help is coming.

Check for Any Medication the Person May be Taking

Ask if the person is taking any heart medication and if they have any with them. If so, assist them in taking their medication as prescribed.

Monitor the Person’s Breathing and Vital Signs

This step is crucial to determine the severity of the heart attack and whether or not the person requires immediate CPR.

  • Observe chest movement and listen for breath sounds to check if the person is breathing. Keep your ear close to your nose and mouth to listen for breathing sounds. If they are not breathing, you must start CPR immediately.
  • To check for a pulse, put your index and middle fingers on the person’s wrist or the side of their neck. Apply light pressure and count the number of beats for 10 seconds. Multiply the beats by six to get their heart rate per minute.

If you cannot feel a pulse, it may indicate that the person’s heart has stopped beating, and CPR should be started immediately.

3D doctor providing CPR

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation/CPR

CPR is a life-saving technique that anyone can perform, including those who are not healthcare professionals.

Hands-only CPR

Check the Person’s Responsiveness

If the person is not responding or not breathing normally, immediately call for emergency medical help.

Position the Person

Lay the victim on their back on a firm, flat surface. Then, kneel beside the person’s chest.

Interlock Your Hands

Put the heel of your one hand on the centre of the person’s chest, and place your other on top of the first. Interlock your fingers.

Begin Chest Compressions

Press down firmly and quickly on the person’s chest with both of your hands, using your body weight to help you. Compress the chest about 2 inches deep at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.

Continue Compressions

Keep up the compressions until medical help arrives or the person starts breathing normally.

Take Breaks If Necessary

If you become tired, switch with another person or stop and rest for a moment before continuing. It’s important to maintain a steady rhythm of compressions.

Learn the skills you need to make a difference and save lives by reading our blog on Where to Get CPR and First Aid Certified. Be the hero in a crisis and make a real impact in your community.

Heart Medication in the UK

In the UK, several types of medication are commonly used to treat heart conditions. These include:

Beta-blockers These medications help to slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure.
ACE inhibitors These medications help to relax blood vessels, reducing the workload on the heart.
Calcium channel blockersThese medications help to relax blood vessels and reduce the workload on the heart.
DiureticsThese medications help reduce excess fluid in the body, reducing the workload on the heart.

7 Second Trick to Prevent Heart Attack

The 7-second trick is a first-aid technique that can help prevent an emergency heart attack. It involves taking a deep breath and coughing vigorously for seven seconds to help restore blood flow to the heart. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Take a deep breath, filling your lungs with air.
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  • Cough vigorously and forcefully from deep within your chest as if trying to cough up phlegm.
  • Take another deep breath and repeat the coughing technique every two seconds, without taking a break, until medical help arrives.

However, remember that this trick is not a substitute for seeking medical attention during a heart attack, but it may be helpful in an emergency.

 Close-up of broken heart with band-aid
Heart Attack Recovery

A heart attack recovery can take several weeks or months, relying on the severity of the attack and any underlying health conditions. During this time,

  • It’s vital to be patient and follow your doctor’s instructions regarding medication, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation is a program that helps recover from a heart attack and prevent future heart problems by providing supervised exercise, education, and support.
  • Lifestyle changes like following a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and managing stress can also boost your recovery and decrease the risk of future heart problems.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, knowing what to do if someone is having a heart attack can make a significant difference in their chances of survival. By remaining calm, calling emergency services, performing CPR if necessary, and taking steps to support their recovery, you can help ensure that the person receives the best possible care. Remember, quick action and a caring approach can be the key to saving a life in emergencies.


How long can a heart attack last?

The duration of a heart attack varies, but it naturally lasts for a few minutes or several hours.

Can you have a heart attack without knowing?

Yes, you can have a heart attack without knowing it, especially if it is a silent heart attack with mild or no symptoms.

How long does your arm hurt before a heart attack?

As a general estimate, discomfort or pain in the arm before an actual heart attack may last for hours or weeks. However, it is vital to remember that symptoms can vary from victim to victim, and some people may not experience arm pain at all before a heart attack.

What is the best position for a heart attack?

The best position for a person having a heart attack is sitting on the floor with knees bent and head and shoulders supported. It is recommended to place cushions behind them or under their knees to make them more comfortable.

Can you drive after a heart attack?

Most people can start driving one week after a heart attack if there are no complications. However, those with more serious cases may need to wait up to four weeks before driving again.

Can teenagers have a heart attack?

Yes, although rare, teenagers can have a heart attack. However, it is more common in teenagers with underlying heart conditions or risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking.

Like This Article?

Share it on social.

Kamrul Hasan