A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo

Make The Call: Don't Miss A Beat

What to Do During a Heart Attack

En Español

Heart Attack Action Plan

  • Call 9-1-1 for emergency medical care.

    Did you know?

    Women who call their own doctor before calling 9-1-1 take twice as long to get life-saving treatment.

    Calling 9-1-1 is the best and fastest way to get to the hospital. When you notice heart attack symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately (within five minutes at most). If you call 9-1-1, emergency medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment right away, even before you get to the hospital. Don't drive yourself or have someone drive you unless you have no other choice.

    More about why 9-1-1 is the right call » 
    • Heart attack patients who arrive by ambulance tend to be treated faster once they get to the hospital, and every minute counts.
    • If you try to drive yourself, you could get stuck in traffic or pass out and cause an accident.
    • Calling your own doctor before calling 9-1-1 only causes delays.
    • Common problems soon after a heart attack include arrhythmia (a problem with the heart's rhythm that can be caused by damage during a heart attack) and cardiac arrest (when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating). Emergency medical personnel have the equipment and training to deal with these problems and make sure you get to the hospital safely.
  • Talk to the 9-1-1 operator and follow their instructions.

    Did you know?

    The ambulance can find you whether you call 9-1-1 from a land line or your cell phone. If they're equally close, use the land line.

    • Try not to panic. Take long, deep breaths, stay calm, and speak slowly and clearly. The dispatcher will ask for your name, where you are, and what is wrong. Say: "I think I am having a heart attack." Stay on the line until you are sure the operator has all the information they need.

    • The 9-1-1 operator may tell you to chew and swallow an aspirin if you are not allergic and don't have any other medical reason not to take it. Never delay calling 9-1-1 to take an aspirin.

      More about taking aspirin » 

      If instructed to do so, chewing or crushing and then swallowing an aspirin (one normal aspirin or two baby aspirin) can reduce heart damage and save your life. A chewed or crushed aspirin gets into your blood faster than if you swallow it whole. Aspirin is not right for everyone, so ask your doctor ahead of time if it is safe for you to take aspirin if you think you are having a heart attack.

  • Follow your heart attack action plan.

    If you have heart disease, or have had a heart attack before, ask your doctor ahead of time what you should do in case of emergency. Your heart attack action plan should tell you when to call 9-1-1, and may also include:

    • Chewing an aspirin (one normal aspirin or two baby aspirin).
    • Putting a nitroglycerin pill under your tongue.

      More about nitroglycerin pills » 

      Ask your doctor about having nitroglycerin pills available in case of emergency. Nitroglycerin widens the arteries, sending extra blood to the heart and buying to extra time to get the hospital. If your doctor has prescribed nitroglycerin and you have chest pain or discomfort, take one pill and wait five minutes. If the pain has not gone away, or if it gets worse, call 9-1-1 right away. You can take up to three more pills (one every five minutes) while waiting for the ambulance.


    • Keeping a copy of your resting electrocardiogram (ECG) and a list of medications you are allergic to close by at all times.
  • Wait for help to arrive.

    If you feel faint or dizzy after you hang up the phone, unlock the door and lie down on the floor where emergency responders can see you as soon as they come in. Try to stay calm and take slow, deep breaths.