If someone appears to be having a heart attack, have them sit or lie down as it reduces pressure on their heart. Sitting or lying down also reduces the risk of a fall injury if the person passes out.

If someone near you is showing signs of a heart attack, you’ll first want to call 911. Getting that person into a position that might ease symptoms and prevent further complications or injury is also beneficial.

Steps to follow if someone near you appears to be having a heart attack

  1. Call 911 rather than try to drive the person to the hospital. Emergency medical personnel can administer potentially life-saving care on the scene and in an ambulance on route to the emergency room.
  2. Provide the person angina (chest pain) medication, such as nitroglycerin if their doctor has prescribed it. If no angina medications are available, have the individual slowly chew and swallow a 325 milligram aspirin. The aspirin may help break up a clot that could be blocking a coronary artery.
    This step is only recommended if the person doesn’t have an aspirin allergy and doesn’t have a medical condition that would make taking an aspirin dangerous. A 2020 study suggests that chewing an aspirin prior to receiving medical attention is associated with greater odds of survival.
  3. Try to stay calm while also helping the person stay calm. A heart attack can be a frightening, anxiety-inducing event, so using a calm, reassuring voice may be just what the person needs.
  4. Contact family members or friends to get any necessary medical information and to alert them to what is happening.
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The best position for someone who appears to be having a heart attack is one that’s safe and comfortable. Sitting down is helpful, as it reduces pressure on the heart.

If possible, you may want to have the individual sit against a wall, bed, or couch. This reduces the risk of a fall injury if the person passes out.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada suggests that either sitting or lying down is OK, depending on what the person with symptoms finds most comfortable. Sitting or lying down is unlikely to affect heart function or anything else during this time. Standing or moving around, however, may further burden the heart.

Be aware that someone having a heart attack may downplay their symptoms and try to continue with whatever activity was going on prior to symptom onset.

Call 911 immediately

Don’t be persuaded against calling for an ambulance. Gently, but firmly encourage the individual to sit and relax while waiting for an ambulance. Loosen any tight clothing if possible.

Take note of all symptoms

Try to take note of all the symptoms the person is experiencing and when they started. If possible, have a list of the person’s regular medications available for the paramedics or emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

Take note of medical history or allergies

Any other useful information, such as the person’s medical history or list of allergies will also be helpful. But don’t pepper the individual with too many questions that may increase their stress levels. Also, if the individual chewed and swallowed an aspirin, be sure to share that information with the emergency medical personnel.

Don’t let them eat anything

Don’t let the person eat anything. A few sips of water may be okay, but try to prevent the person from taking anything by mouth. This includes medications that aren’t specifically designed to respond to angina.

Be calm and comforting

If the person starts to panic, remind them gently that paramedics are on the way and that everything will be all right. Stay close to the person or make sure someone else is by the person’s side at all times.

If the person loses consciousness, call 911 back and follow their instructions

If the individual loses consciousness, call the 911 dispatcher to report the change in the person’s condition. You may be instructed to administer CPR. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, you may be advised to use that instead.

A heart attack can be a frightening experience, but if you can remain calm and help a person sit or lie down comfortably while waiting for an ambulance, you’ll be the first person to administer helpful care to that individual during this upsetting and dangerous time.

The focus should always be keeping the person safe, comfortable, and as calm as possible. And never hesitate to call 911 when symptoms appear.

The person on the other end of the line may have additional advice or questions for you while the ambulance is on its way. If it’s possible to enlist the aid of others to speak on the phone or sit with the person having the heart attack, the entire process may run more smoothly for everyone.