Timing is everything. People who experience the warning signs of a heart attack often deny how serious the situation is and take a wait-and-see approach. But time is very important, and anyone with these warning signs needs to get medical evaluation and treatment right away.
Do not wait more than a few minutes — 5 minutes at most — to call 911. If your physician has prescribed nitroglycerin because you have chest discomfort that comes on with physical exertion and is relieved by rest (a condition called angina pectoris that is usually caused by partial blockage of 1 or more of the arteries nourishing the heart), you may take the medication as prescribed.
If your symptoms are not relieved within 5 minutes, you should call 911 immediately and go to the hospital so that the physicians can determine whether you are having a heart attack.
By calling 911 and taking an ambulance, you will get to the hospital in the fastest and safest way possible. There also are other benefits to calling 911:
- Emergency personnel can begin treatment immediately, even before you arrive at the hospital.
- Your heart may stop beating during a heart attack. Emergency personnel have the knowledge and equipment needed to start it beating again.
- Patients having a heart attack who arrive by ambulance tend to receive faster treatment on their arrival at the hospital.
Note: If you are having heart attack symptoms and for some reason cannot call 9-1-1, have someone else drive you at once to the hospital. Never drive yourself unless there is absolutely no other choice because you could pass out while driving.
Questions You Will Likely Be Asked in the Emergency Department
When you get to the emergency department, you should be ready to answer, as best as you can, the following questions about your symptoms:
- What time did your discomfort begin?
- What were you doing when your discomfort began?
- Was it at its most intense level immediately, or did it gradually build up to a peak?
- Did you notice any additional symptoms in association with the discomfort such as nausea, sweating, or shortness of breath?
- On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst, what number would you use to describe your discomfort at this time?