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Make The Call: Don't Miss A Beat

What to Do During a Heart Attack

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Tips for Getting the Best Care

Good communication is crucial to help your doctor provide the right diagnosis and treatment. This section includes tips on how to talk to doctors and other healthcare providers to make sure you get the best possible care. You will also learn what to do if your concerns are not taken seriously. Many women who have survived a heart attack tell stories in which persistence was the key to getting the help they needed and saving their own lives. Remember, it is your heart, and no one knows your body like you do. Don't give up until you get the care you need.

How should I describe my symptoms?

  • Describe your symptoms in a clear, direct manner. Tell the doctor your symptoms and how you feel, not a story about how they happened and what you think the cause might be.
  • Be specific. Describe how your symptoms feel, where you feel them, how bad they are, and how long you have had them.
  • Make it clear that these symptoms are not normal for you and that you think something is seriously wrong. Using the words "I have never felt this before" can help the doctor realize that something may be seriously wrong.
  • Stay calm. Having a heart attack is frightening, but being too emotional or upset when talking about your symptoms is not helpful. Sometimes it can cause confusion and delays.
  • Don't give up. Keep describing your symptoms until you feel you are understood.
  • Listen carefully to any questions you are asked and answer them directly. Do not be afraid to take time to organize your thoughts.
  • You may be asked to describe the pain you are feeling on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. Be honest and do not downplay your symptoms—now is not the time to "be tough."
  • Speak up. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you have continued pain while you are in the hospital, make sure the doctor or nurse knows how you are feeling. Continued pain will be treated differently than pain that goes away.

What if I am not taken seriously?

Did you know?

Women having a heart attack are twice as likely as men to be wrongly sent away from the hospital. Be calm, firm, and don't give up until your concerns are addressed.

Having heart attack symptoms is a stressful experience. The added pressures of having people, especially doctors, refuse to take you seriously can be almost too much to bear. But take heart: many women have faced the same challenge and were eventually able to receive the care they needed. Trust your instincts and be willing to fight for your health.

  • Be persistent. Never stop seeking care as long as you have a problem, even if the doctor says there is nothing wrong.
  • Be direct. Say "I think I'm having a heart attack." If you are told it is just nerves or indigestion, say "Have you checked to see if I've had a heart attack?"
  • Ask for more tests. Insist on having an ECG and blood tests before agreeing to go home. These tests are simple, fast, and very accurate at finding any heart problems. Even if your test results are normal, if you still have pain or discomfort, insist on being admitted to the hospital overnight for observation.
  • Get a second opinion. If you feel the ER doctor is not taking you seriously, ask to see a clinical cardiologist (also called a noninvasive cardiologist), who specializes in heart attacks. Do not worry about offending anyone: your health is the most important thing.