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What to do if you think you’re having a heart attack

Four steps that could save your life

If you or someone near you is having a heart attack, the decisions you make in the first few minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Step 1: Call 911 or ask someone to call for you

Emergency responders have equipment and medications that can help save heart-attack victims. Get them on their way immediately.

Step 2: Chew an adult dose (325 milligrams) of aspirin

This is something you should have at home and carry with you. It's important to chew the aspirin instead of swallowing it. That helps it to be absorbed much more rapidly. Aspirin can help thin your blood just enough to let a little bit squeeze by a blockage, buying more time.

Step 3: Reduce the strain on your heart

Lay on the ground and try to stay calm. It's OK to recline if that makes it easier to breathe, but don't try to stand up.

Step 4: Grab the AED if there is one and have someone ready to do CPR if needed

Heart attacks can lead to cardiac arrest -- where the heart stops beating. If someone becomes unconscious and is not breathing normally -- you need to start CPR and use the AED until rescuers can take over.

To learn Hands-Only CPR, click here.

If you have enough people, send someone to get the AED at the first sign of trouble.

These are the steps you need to take if someone is having a heart attack, but don't miss the opportunity to prevent one:

  • Find out if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Talk to your doctor about the changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart problems.
  • Don't ignore early warning signs such as shortness of breath, unusual fatigue or unexplained heartburn. These symptoms should be checked out by your doctor.
  • Learn the symptoms of a heart attack -- chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw, nausea, lightheadedness or sweating.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, and it's something we all need to take more seriously before a heart attack happens.

To learn more about heart attacks, click here.