Better Me

Don’t Drive Yourself to the Hospital During a Heart Attack

“Tough” is a dad who stubs his toe on the door jamb and doesn’t say a word. “Self-reliant” is a mother that carries all the grocery bags (in one trip) when her kids refuse to help. “Money-wise” is the kid that mows lawns and walks neighborhood dogs for cash.

Too often, we turn these positive attributes into negative ones when it comes to medical emergencies. One common example is when people suffering from a heart attack drive themselves to the hospital. To understand the risks, we spoke with Mark Tuttle, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Banner Health in Colorado.

“Of  the numerous heart attack patients we see, many of them arrive in their own car,” remarked Dr. Tuttle. “Although driving yourself to the hospital can seem much faster, it is much more dangerous, and the risk also spikes for individuals whose families bring them to the hospital.” When asked why they didn’t call 9-1-1, these patients often argue that they wanted to save money, reserve ambulances for “real” emergencies or that driving themselves would be faster. It’s important to learn the symptoms of a heart attack, so that you know how to react in the moment.

Why call an ambulance?

Dr. Tuttle offered four reasons to pick up your phone instead of your keys.

1. Get treatment faster

Ambulances get to you faster than you can get to the hospital. When your artery is clogged, blood flow to your heart is limited. Every minute that your organs are deprived of oxygen will increase your risk of long-term effects. Dr. Tuttle explained that around the 90-minute mark, tissues in your heart could be irreversibly damaged without fast therapy or treatment. In an ambulance, treatment is started while you’re on the way to the hospital. This doesn’t happen if a person drives him or herself to the emergency department.

2. The hospital will have a chance to prepare

While you’re moving down the road, your ambulance call will give the hospital time to prepare for exactly what you need. This could mean prepping a room, readying medical equipment or even calling specialists into the hospital if your emergency occurs during off hours. Without this preparation, you could be forced to wait when you arrive, prolonging your treatment further.

3. You’ll be supervised

During a heart attack, you are at risk of passing out or even dying. Traveling in an ambulance means if something happens, the technicians will be able to perform resuscitation and protect you while in route to the hospital.

4. You could save other lives

Driving yourself to the hospital puts you and everyone around you at risk. If you were to get in an accident, you would undoubtedly make your situation worse and could injure or kill others at the same time. Being driven by friends or family is risky as well. You won’t receive the care mentioned above and your driver will be distracted and perhaps pressured to drive too fast. In short, emergency driving is best left to professionals.

Lower risk, improve recovery

Dr. Tuttle explained that time to treatment is the most important factor once a heart attack begins. Calling 9-1-1 is your best bet to receive fast, accurate care that puts you back on your feet as soon as possible. Fast care will also reduce your risk of long-term issues and dependence on medication. In many cases, calling an ambulance could actually save you money and improve your health over time.

If you are concerned about your heart health, now is the time to act. Take preventive measures to evaluate your health and decrease your risk.  Check out our free heart health risk assessment test or schedule a visit with your primary care physician to see what you can do to keep your heart pumping for decades to come. To find a doctor near you, visit

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Minor edits were made to this article content on February 6, 2023.

Heart Health Emergency Senior Health