Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

How to help

How to help

Now that you know the most common signs of heart attack in women, in addition to chest pain, you can learn more. Be ready to help someone else in an emergency with these steps.


How to spot a heart attack in others

The myth of the “Hollywood heart attack” is the heart attack you see in movies:

  • The victim stops what they're doing.
  • Their eyes open wide.
  • They clutch their chest with their hand, make some funny noises, and then collapse to the floor.

Don't believe everything you see on TV. In reality, heart attacks can have many different symptoms. But during a heart attack, the heart keeps beating. Usually people having a heart attack have a pulse and are awake or conscious.

Women who are having a heart attack may have chest pain or pressure, but they may also have other symptoms. Talk to the person and ask them what other symptoms they’re having, how long they’ve had them, and what they think might be happening. If they have chest pain like they’ve never had before, or they have several heart attack symptoms, the best thing to do is call 911. Trained medical professionals can best help someone who might be having a heart attack.

Heart attack or cardiac arrest?

A heart attack is not the same as cardiac arrest. In a heart attack, the heart keeps beating. In cardiac arrest the heart stops beating, the person does not have a pulse, and they are usually unconscious (not awake). Call 911 if you think anyone near you is having a heart attack (the person is awake and has chest pain or other heart attack symptoms) or cardiac arrest (the person is not awake and has no pulse or heartbeat).

For cardiac arrest, call 911 and begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) right away. The American Heart Association says that with "hands only" CPR, anyone can give lifesaving treatment to someone having cardiac arrest. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest and keep going until emergency personnel arrive. Do not give CPR for a heart attack.

Take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class

  • During a heart attack the heart usually keeps beating. But if someone’s heart stops, CPR helps to keep blood and oxygen flowing to the brain until treatment can be given.
  • Most people who suffer a heart attack do not need CPR. However, if the person loses consciousness and is not breathing or does not have a pulse, CPR can help until emergency workers arrive.
  • Taking a CPR class can help you feel prepared for a medical emergency. Visit the National Library of Medicine to learn more about CPR.

Know how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

  • Defibrillators or AEDs are used to treat sudden cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating). Defibrillators are portable devices that check the heart’s rhythm and deliver an electric shock, if needed, to help restore its regular rhythm.
  • You do not need medical training to use AED devices. They are designed to be used by the average person. But you can take a class to make sure you understand why and how to use a defibrillator in an emergency.
  • AEDs can be found in schools, shopping centers, sport stadiums, airports, public transportation, and many other public spaces.
  • Some basic CPR courses include a section on using a defibrillator or an AED, or you may need to take a separate class.

Learn more about AEDs and how they are used. Visit the American Heart Association website (link is external) to find CPR and AED training courses near you.

Know your loved one’s wishes

Whether you’re 45 or 85, you are at risk of a medical emergency. An advance directive or living will can help your loved ones know your wishes if you cannot speak for yourself because you are unconscious, sedated, or in a coma.

  • Talk to your doctor. At a regular checkup, tell your doctor or nurse you want to talk about medical decisions during emergencies. Your doctor or nurse will help you decide what types of treatments you want if you cannot speak for yourself. Your doctor or nurse may ask you to make another appointment to talk about all of these details.
  • Talk to others. If you are part of a faith community, you may want to talk about advance directives with a faith leader. Other friends or loved ones who already have an advance directive may be able to give you good advice also. People who have been caregivers for others may have valuable insight into what questions you should ask.
  • Think about your life now. Advance directives can and probably will change over time. If you are young and healthy, you may want doctors and nurses to do everything they can to keep you alive. If you have a disease that is likely to cause your death in the next six months, pain relief might be your highest priority. Your wishes will probably change over time as your life circumstances and health change.
  • Think about how different kinds of treatment may affect your quality of life. Some people do not want to be connected to machines to breathe or eat. Other people might be OK with receiving nutrition through a feeding tube in the stomach if doctors thought it would be only for a short time. You may not want lifesaving emergency treatment, such as CPR, if you have a disabling illness or condition and your heart stops. Keep in mind that you can change your wishes at any time, and you will be given options if you are conscious.
  • Talk to your loved ones about your wishes. If your loved ones do not know about your wishes in a medical emergency, they will do whatever they think is best. It can be difficult to talk about serious medical emergencies ahead of time, but most people would rather know what you want done in an emergency.
  • Decide who can speak for you. While most people assume their partner will make decisions for them, some people pick a different loved one to be what is called their “health care proxy.” A health care proxy is someone you pick who can make health care decisions for you if you are not able to.