Heart Attack


We were called to a home at 2:00 a.m. A little girl answered the door and led us upstairs. Her Dad was on the floor and her Mom was doing CPR. We did everything we could, but the man died. I will never forget that little girl’s fright and I still think how much her life will have changed. This may have been prevented – the man had been complaining of chest pain since 10:00 p.m. the night before.


Many people who go into cardiac arrest have had warning signs such as chest pain – often for hours. Even if Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation is started immediately, once you are in cardiac arrest your chances of walking out of the hospital are not good.


Early recognition of a heart attack is crucial. The sooner you realize you are having a problem and the sooner you seek medical aid, the better your chances.


You do not have to be old to have a heart attack! I seem to be attending more and more people who are in their thirties and early forties.


What Happens During A Heart Attack

·       Like any other muscle, the heart needs oxygen to survive. Oxygen is supplied through the blood, which is carried to the heart via the arteries. Many people have a fatty buildup inside the arteries that restricts blood flow. When the supply of oxygen is impaired or stopped, part of the heart will die and the person will suffer a heart attack.


What Happens In Cardiac Arrest

·       If enough of the heart muscle dies, or if there are other problems, the heart may stop. This is called cardiac arrest. When this happens, the heart no longer beats effectively. Death follows quickly unless Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation and Advanced Life Support are quickly provided. The trick is to get to a hospital before you go into cardiac arrest.


Signs & Symptoms of a Heart Attack



You may have a crushing or squeezing pain, usually in the center of your chest under your breastbone (sternum). This pain may be very severe or very mild, and it may radiate into the jaw, neck or arms (often the left arm).

The pain may start without any physical exertion. You do not have to be outside shoveling the snow in order to suffer a heart attack.


I have attended more people who have had heart attacks when they were watching television or sleeping then when they were shoveling the snow.



The person may feel very weak and tired.


Sweaty, Cool Skin

The victim’s skin may be slightly moist of even very sweaty while still cool to the touch – a very unnatural situation. The person may also have very pale or an ashen gray skin, and look extremely sick. However, it is not unusual for a heart attack victim to look and feel normal.


Nausea and Vomiting

The person may have vomited or feel like vomiting.


Shortness of Breath

When a person is having a heart attack they may have difficulty breathing. In some cases with certain heart conditions, a fluid may back up into their lungs, making it extremely hard for the person to breathe. In some cases the person may even cough up frothy sputum that also may be tinged with blood. This is extremely serious.



As mentioned in the opening story, many people wait too long to seek medical aid. They deny that they are having a heart attack, even when they have all the signs and symptoms. This is a big mistake – a mistake that can kill you. If you are with a person who is having the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, don’t let them talk you out of calling an ambulance. Try your best to convince the victim to seek medical aid.


Copyright 1997 Safety Health Publishing Inc.


Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter/paramedic and is the author of the best selling book “I Won’t be in to Work Today – Preventing Injuries at Home, Work and Play”. Martin delivers keynote presentations dealing with injury prevention. His talks are funny, but still have a strong underlying message. Visit his website at www.safete.com