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Heart Attack Treatment

What to Do When You're Having a Heart Attack


Updated January 25, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you have chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, always go to the ER rather than the doctor's office. Do not drive yourself to the hospital; call 911 instead. If you are having a heart attack, there is a chance that you could pass out. If you are behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and others at risk.

While waiting for the ambulance:



  • Sit down and rest. The more exercise or stress you put on the heart, the more damage the heart attack will do. Sit and rest until the ambulance arrives.
  • Have someone gather your medications. If there is someone with you, have them gather your medications or an updated list. It's a good idea to have personal medical information available at all times for the ambulance crew.
  • Take your nitroglycerin. If you have a prescription for nitroglycerin, this is why you have it. Take it as directed by your physician. Usually, you put a tablet under your tongue and let it dissolve. Do not take another person's nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin can make some people's blood pressure drop dangerously low.
    WARNING: Taking nitroglycerin within 36 hours of taking Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra (drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction) may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. Do not take nitroglycerine within 36 hours of taking erectile dysfunction drugs unless directed by a physician.
  • You may take an aspirin. If you called 911, follow the directions from the 911 operator. He or she might tell you to take an aspirin, and that's fine. The ambulance crew is likely to give you aspirin when they get there if you don't do it yourself. If you're going to the hospital another way (not in an ambulance), taking an aspirin is not a bad idea as long as you don't delay getting to the hospital in order to take the aspirin.
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