Should you take asprin if you think you are having a heart attack?

If you think you are having a heart attack you should dial 999 immediately for an ambulance. You should sit and rest and wait for the paramedics to arrive. If you are with someone and you know that you are not allergic to an aspirin ask them to fetch you one if you have some nearby The person should not leave you for long periods but popping upstairs or to another room for an aspirin would be ok.

If you are alone and you have an aspirin next to you and you know that you are not allergic to it then chew it. If you don't have an aspirin next to you then just rest and wait for the ambulance. Do not get up and wander around the house looking for an aspirin. This would put unnecessary strain on your heart at a time when you heart is in serious trouble.

Should I take aspirin every day to prevent a heart attack?

No, not unless you have been advised to do so by your GP. All medications carry potential side effects. For most people with coronary heart disease or at high risk of developing it, then the benefits of taking aspirin daily will outweigh the risks. As there is a risk of bleeding associated with taking aspirin every day its best to check with your GP if you really need it.

Why is a heart attack an emergency?

A heart attack is an emergency because the sudden loss of blood supply to the heart muscle causes two problems:

  1. It increases the risk of having a life threatening irregular heart beat. Sadly, three out of every ten people who have a heart attack will die before they reach hospital because of an irregular heart beat. It causes their heart to stop and without emergency resuscitation they will die. That's why it's important to call 999 immediately and why the British Heart Foundation has trained people in the community how to respond appropriately to emergencies.
  2. It kills your heart muscle. Your heart needs a constant supply of blood and oxygen to keep it alive and healthy. Once that blood supply gets interrupted your heart muscle will start to die. If a large part of your heart muscle dies then it can have significant implications for your quality of life in the future. You could become very limited by chest pain and breathlessness.

Every second counts. If you think you are having a heart attack dial 999 immediately – it could save your life and your heart muscle.

What is the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?

A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked by a blood clot stopping the blood reaching the area of heart muscle that it supplies.  The muscle is starved of the blood and oxygen that it needs and can be seriously and permanently damaged unless the blood flow is restored. That's why it is important to call 999 immediately when you think you are having a heart attack - it could save your life and your heart muscle.

A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops.  The heart stops beating, possibly as a result of an abnormal heart rhythm such as ventricular fibrillation. Cardiac arrest presents as the sudden collapse of the person. They will not have a pulse and will not be breathing.  Immediate mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage is needed until the arrival of the emergency services who may then need to defibrillate the patient in an attempt to restore the normal heart rhythm (this is the delivery of an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart with a special machine). In some cases a trained emergency responder will be able to use a defibrillator where one is available before the emergency services arrive.

What happens if I call 999 with chest pain and it turns out not to be a heart attack?

No harm done! Better to be safe than sorry and the paramedics will tell you that they would rather turn to up a false alarm than arrive too late because the person didn't want to bother 999 services. It's your life in your hands. Why take a risk?

Doubt Kills. If you think you are having a heart attack don't waste time - dial 999 immediately.

For answers to more frequently asked questions visit the FAQ section of the British Heart Foundation's Doubt Kills website.