What Do I Do If I Am Having Chest Pains?

Chris Wright, MD, is an interventional cardiologist at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.

Question: What should I do if I am home alone and experience chest pain? Should I drive myself to the hospital, or phone a friend to come pick me up and take me?

Answer: The most important thing for you to do if you are experiencing any warning signs of a heart attack is to call 9-1-1 immediately. Those warning signs include: chest pain, chest pressure, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Paying attention and reacting quickly to any signs of a heart attack can save your life.

A heart attack occurs when a blockage in one the heart arteries leads to a lack of blood supply to the heart tissue. Restoring this blood flow with emergency treatment at the hospital will stop any heart tissue death. Time is muscle, so the faster this treatment is started the more heart tissue is saved and the better the outcome.

Although many people are reluctant or feel embarrassed calling 9-1-1, making this call is the most important thing that you can do for yourself if you are experiencing any of the warning signs of a heart attack. Not only can the ambulance team start treatment for many heart problems right in your home, they can continue that treatment while en route to the hospital and get you there most quickly for advanced care. The paramedics also have the ability to notify the emergency room of your arrival, which allows for the fastest hospital response.

When the heart is sick, you can become very unstable, making regular vehicle transportation dangerous for yourself and others on the road. If you opt to have a friend drive you, you are also taking an unnecessary risk. That friend cannot come to your aid in the event that you become unstable while on your way to the hospital.

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