Dealing with a Heart Attack

This leaflet is created from first aid advice provided by St John Ambulance, the nation's leading first aid charity. This advice is no substitute for first aid training - find a training course near you.

A heart attack is most commonly caused by a sudden blockage of the blood supply to the heart muscle itself - for example, a blood clot. The main risk is that the heart will stop beating.

  1. Look for:
    • Persistent central chest pain - often described as vice-like or a heavy crushing pressure.
    • Pain spreading (radiating) to the jaw, neck and down one or both arms.
    • Breathlessness.
    • Discomfort high in the abdomen, similar to indigestion.
    • Possible collapse without warning.
    • Ashen skin and blueness at the lips.
    • Rapid, weak pulse which may be irregular.
    • Profuse sweating, skin cold to the touch.
    • Gasping for air (air hunger).
    • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  2. Sit them down:
    • Sit them in the 'W' position:
      • Semi-recumbent (sitting up at about 75° to the ground) with knees bent.
  3. Call for help:
    • Call 999/112 for emergency help and tell ambulance control you suspect a heart attack.
  4. Give an aspirin:
    • If available and not allergic, give them a 300 mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly (provided they are not under 16 years of age).
    • If they have any medication for angina, such as tablets or a spray, assist them to take it.
    • Constantly monitor and record breathing and pulse rate, until help arrives.
    • If they become unconscious, refer to the treatment for someone unconscious but breathing.

Note: these hints are no substitute for thorough knowledge of first aid. St John Ambulance holds first aid courses throughout the country.

This leaflet was taken from the St John Ambulance website: heart attack. Copyright for this leaflet is with St John Ambulance.