How to Survive Heart Attack Alone!

by Dr. Jack Hsu (7/17/2013)

I have two friends died in heart attack in June 2013. One is only at the age of 55! So, I did researches and searches all the related information how to survive heart attack, and included my personal experience to issue this article. Hopefully, it helps save someone’s life when heart attack happens. Your comments or feedback are welcome.

This article discusses the right way how to survive heart attack when you are alone! Many websites either in English or Chinese has already discussed this issue. After comprehensive searching and my personal experience, I summarized the right way how to rescue your life alone from heart attack. You need to well prepare in advance, even if you are not sure you have heart problems or not, to help yourself when you need it.

The rescue prime time when heart attack occurs

When a heart attack occurs, a cardiac arrest three seconds later, the people will feel dizzy due to cerebral hypoxia; 10-20 seconds later, people will loss of consciousness; 30-45 seconds later, the pupil will be dilated; a minute later breathing stops, and incontinence; 4 minutes later the irreversible brain cell damage occurs. Due to cardiac arrest, immediately unconscious, has been in clinical death phase. The best prime surviving time is about 4-6 minutes, if not rescued within 4 minutes, then the hope of survival is very slim. Therefore, mastering rescue time is critical to survive. How to extend the critical rescue time between heart attack and reaching the hospital for treatment is the most critical issue, especially when you are alone. (Reference)

So, when a heart attack happens, you might have less than 30 seconds to take actions to survive and to extend the critical rescue time! I have a friend who had heart attack, but when he reached the hospital carried by his friend, he was already unconscious, and his brain cells were damaged. He survived, but under special care, he died about 10 years later. It gave his family a huge burden. So, preparing for rescuing your life from heart attack is a must task, especially true for patients of heart diseases.

Typical symptoms of a heart attack

The followings are warning signs when heart attack occurs:
• Chest pain (nausea, oppression) for more than a few minutes.
• Discomfort or pain spreads from the chest to the shoulders, neck, back, jaw or arm.
• Dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, irregular heart beat (too fast or too slow), unstable blood pressure.
• Pale or cyanotic lips; pale bruising skin.
• loss of consciousness, etc.
• Myocardial infarction is because cardiac hypoxia causes blood clotting, blood cannot transport oxygen to the brain, and may cause brain death. The rescue prime time is less than 30 seconds. A month or two before myocardial infarction occurs, usually you have felt chest tightness on and off. In the onset of one or two days you feel particularly tired, and boring. If you have this kind of symptoms, you should pay special attention to it.

When you have any of the symptoms described above, you should take immediate action to save your life.

My personal experience

While I was living with my father in Taiwan, because my father likes adding salt in every (almost) dish he cooked, and the meals of lunch boxes we bought were salty as well. One night when I woke up for urinating, I felt fast heartbeat, weakness, and a little dizzy, but when urinating is about finished, I knew I need to lie down as soon as possible, but when the thought was flashed from my mind, I fainted, and became unconscious for about 20 minutes! Fortunately no dangerous items were around me, and I did not get hurt physically when I fainted. And luckily I still could wake up! The second day I visited my doctor, and found that I had arrhythmia caused by excessive sodium (from salt) in my body. Later I went to a famous big hospital to do physical checkups, such as ECG, 24 hours ECG monitoring, etc. but found my heart was normal! There were two times, I ate some kinds of lunch boxes at noon, my arrhythmia problem occurred again at about 2:30 pm. Similar symptoms every time: dizziness, weakness, fast heartbeat (120 to 150) and irregular, fluctuated blood pressure, etc. I need to lie down and rest. Fortunately I always carried the arrhythmic drugs, so I took the medicine immediately and rest, and drank plenty of water. Usually, it took about 1 ~1.5 days to recover. Now, I knew how to take care of myself when arrhythmia problem happens to me again.

Assess your physical conditions in advance

Before learning how to take care of yourself, you need to understand your physical conditions. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Do you have symptoms of heart disease(s) before? As described above.
• If so, have you seen your doctor?
• If so, do you know what kind(s)?
• If so, do you always carry the heart medicine(s) your doctor prescribed?
• Do you ask your doctor: When heart attack occurs, how the prescribed medicine(s) would help you? How to survive this alone?
• Are you allergic to Aspirin or causing other side effects? You best do self-test in advance! Dose is about 100 ~ 325 mg. Figure out the right dose for yourself. If no prescribed medicine(s) available, aspirin is the other choice to survive heart attack!
• Know the location of Neiguan point? (See note 3 below).

Items list you must prepare in advance and carry them with you anytime anywhere!

• The prescribed drug(s) for heart disease(s); or, Aspirin (325 mg each or your right dose) 1 ~ 2 pieces;
• One bottle of Water (Always you have one in hand, or beside your bed);
• Cell Phone (Always check the battery electricity), or home phone beside your bed.
• Your local emergency telephone number. 911 in USA; 120 in China; 110 in Taiwan.
• Prepare a data card having your name, address, telephone number, contact number of your loved one or friends (the more the better), and the current situation of your medical and allergy drugs. This card must also be always in hand (e.g. your wallet) (very important).

The Right Way How to Survive Heart Attack When Alone

When heart attack occurs, your rescue prime time might be less than 30 seconds! So, you have to complete the following actions within 30 seconds in the following sequence:
1. Take the heart medicine(s) your doctor prescribed; or one piece of Aspirin (325 mg, or your right dose) (To be prepared in advance to take what is best for you).
2. Call 911 (in USA) or your local emergency phone number for ambulance. Or press your medical alert SOS button (see note 1). Do not recommend calling your relatives or friends first, but local emergency phone because you do not have time to waste! When the emergency phone is connected, say clearly your name, address of where you are, such as street names and so on.
3. If nobody around you at home, carry the items listed above, unlock (open) the front door, so that ambulance personnel can come in to rescue you.
4. Sit on the couch (Do not lie down), waiting for help. During the waiting time, it is the chance of rescuing yourself by all techniques you learned to keep you awake!

Here are some techniques you can apply in this period to try to keep you awake, and probably save your life!
5. Press the Neiguan point (see note to find the location) firmly and as hard as you can in your both hands. (Reference 1),or simply flap as hard as you can around inside of your each arm around elbow area (Reference 2).
6. And/or, do Cough CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), see Note 2), which is coughing hard and deep breath as often as you can.
7. And/or Use your palm or fist to knock your chest.
8. Keep deep breathing during the above actions.
9. Repeat the above steps until the ambulance crews arrive.
10. If your condition is improved, you can call your loved ones. If you become unconscious before the arrival of ambulance crews, then the crews will rely on your data card. That is why your data card is so important.

[Warning]: When heart attack occurs, never try to drive your car to hospital by yourself! Never! You may kill yourself, or others by car accident!

I strongly recommend everybody learning the CPR skills, so that you may be able to rescue your love ones when they need you!

Keep Healthy! Keep well prepared all the time for the unexpected!

[Note 1] Medical alert devices that can help keep seniors safe

Medical alert device is a wearable SOS button that the owner can push in case (s)he falls or needs help. It is a signal transmitter to call an emergency service company when it is activated by pushing the button. The service company will do everything for you (e.g. get ambulance, etc.) according to your personal profile data stored in their databases. But there is monthly fee. This is good device and service to you help at emergency conditions like heart attack or accidents, specially good option for seniors. Reference 1;   Reference 2

[Note 2] Cough CPR

This technique has been spread through the internet since 1999, and disputed as well. General Hospital Rochester, Red Cross, American Heart Association (AHA) did not endorse this method, But AHA announced a news in April 2013 as;

“During a sudden arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), it may be possible for a conscious, responsive person to cough forcefully and repetitively to maintain enough blood flow to the brain to remain conscious for a few seconds until the arrhythmia is treated. Blood flow is maintained by increased pressure in the chest that occurs during forceful coughs.” (Reference)

This technique has not been proven to be effective for other heart diseases, but researches about this issue are undergoing.

However, my view is that if it is not going to damage your heart when heart attack occurs, why not try it during the emergent situation of life and death!

[Note 3] Location of Neiguan acupoint

The brief description of effect of the Neiguan acupoint acupressure on our body and our heart is explained in the Reference

Refer to the photos shown below:
• Make a fist like the shown photo 1 below, the Neiguan acupoint is located in that cavity between two tendons.
• Place three fingers together beside the Cross Striations line. The Neiguan acupoint is exactly located at the intersection of the cavity and beside the 3 fingers as shown below.
Neiguan acupoint
[Note 4] More references related to how to rescue heart attack people

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