The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women
Get Help Quickly
If you think you, or someone else, may be having a heart attack, you must act quickly to prevent disability or death. Wait no more than a few minutes—5 minutes at most—before dialing 9-1-1.
It is important to dial 9-1-1 because emergency medical personnel can begin treatment even before you get to the hospital. They also have the equipment and training to start your heart beating again if it stops. Dialing 9-1-1 quickly can save your life.
Even if you're not sure you're having a heart attack, dial 9-1-1 if your symptoms last up to 5 minutes. If your symptoms stop completely in less than 5 minutes, you should still call your doctor.
You also must act at once because hospitals have clot-busting medicines and other artery-opening treatments and procedures that can stop a heart attack, if given quickly. These treatments work best when given within the first hour after a heart attack starts.
Women tend to delay longer than men in getting help for a possible heart attack. A large study of heart attack patients found that, on average, women waited 22 minutes longer than men did before going to the hospital. Many women delay because they don't want to bother or worry others, especially if their symptoms turn out to be a false alarm. But when you're facing something as serious as a possible heart attack, it is much better to be safe than sorry. If you have any symptoms of a possible heart attack that last up to 5 minutes, call 9-1-1 right away.
When you get to the hospital, don't be afraid to speak up for what you need—or bring someone who can speak up for you. Ask for tests that can determine if you are having a heart attack. Commonly given initial tests include an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and a cardiac enzyme blood test (to check for heart damage).
At the hospital, don't let anyone tell you that your symptoms are "just indigestion" or that you're "overreacting." You have the right to be thoroughly examined for a possible heart attack. If you are having a heart attack, you have the right to immediate treatment to help stop the attack.
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Last Updated: February 29, 2012