Last updated: April 21, 2021
Nothing was ever more frightening for me than losing my Dad to a heart attack and seeing my Mom go through the loss. It was devastating and I have committed my life to help people learn about this. I’ve asked myself what steps would need to be taken if the unthinkable occurred to myself or to another member of my family and I know that preparation is key—knowing the warning signs of a heart attack, what happens during a heart attack, and how to be a caregiver if the worst happens. Reality is stark: according to the CDC, approximately 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year. It is best to be prepared by knowing the warning signs and what happens during a heart attack.
These include chest pain, fatigue, nausea, a feeling of pressure in the chest, as well as shortness of breath. Other warning signs are cold sweat and lightheadedness. Women, in particular, may experience pain in the back, jaw, or upper abdomen, as well as generalized extreme fatigue, but may not view these as warning signs of a heart attack.
Also common, and often ignored, warning signs of a heart attack are a pain in the neck, shoulders, jaw, and arms, as well as dizziness and fainting. If someone you know exhibits these signs, you should call 911 immediately. If for some reason you cannot reach 911, you should drive the patient to the nearest ER. However, calling 911 and letting emergency medical services handle transportation is recommended instead of driving the patient yourself. Also, if you are the one who is having the symptoms, it is never recommended to drive yourself to the hospital. Call 911 immediately.
If your loved one is on prescription nitroglycerin, please administer a dosage if he or she thinks they are having an attack.
In simplest biology, a clot forms in an artery and blocks blood flow to the heart. As the heart becomes deprived of oxygen, the muscle becomes damaged. This is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI).
You will become familiar, as a caregiver, with the routines of hospital life and lingo. My best recommendation is to ask for medical terms to be explained to you in simple words from what happens during the heart attack itself, to recovery and long-term care. Arming yourself with information is the best thing you can do for a parent, spouse, or any other relative.
The first thing to remember is that most people survive a heart attack, especially when they receive immediate medical help. Anxiety is a normal experience for a caregiver looking after a loved one who has had a heart attack, but a reassuring fact is that advances in medical care have enabled more people to survive heart attacks and recover to full function.