First aid

What to do if someone has a heart attack

What to do if someone has a heart attack Over 200,000 occur every year

Each year in the UK, over 200,000 people have heart attacks. Around a third of these will die before reaching the hospital.

Know the signs

Most people usually know that chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack, but this can vary from a mild discomfort to severe.

Signs of a heart attack usually include:

  • Pain in the centre of the chest
  • Chest pain which spreads to the jaw, neck and down one or both arms (often the left arm)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling sick and/or vomiting
  • Feeling light headed or dizziness
  • Pain in the back or stomach
  • Profuse sweating
  • Lips turn blue
  • Gasping for air

It's important to realise that the signs of a heart attack can differ from person to person. Chest pain can vary from a mild discomfort in the centre of the chest to pain which is often described as a heavy pressure, crushing or tightness.

In others, especially women, the chest pain may be a minor but is accompanied by some of the other signs. Either way, a heart attack is a medical emergency and has to be acted on immediately.

What to do

If you think someone is having a heart attack, don't delay.

  • Call 999 or 112 for an ambulance
  • Sit the person down in a comfortable position
  • If they are conscious, give them a 300mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly
  • Don't leave them alone. Be prepared to adminisister CPR if they become unconscious and have trouble or stop breathing.

This article was published on Thu 27 May 2010

Image © Marin Conic -

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