Heart Health

Updated 11 February 2014

Emergency treatment for heart attacks

Loved ones are often concerned about methods of handling another heart attack. Emergency treatment can save a life. All family members should know how to use it.


Loved ones are often concerned about methods of handling another heart attack. Emergency treatment can save a life. All family members should know how to use it.

Signs and symptoms to look for

  • A persistent crushing pain in the centre of the chest.
  • A pain that spreads to the arms, throat, jaw, back or abdomen.
  • A pain that does not go away with rest.
  • The person may be very pale, weak, sweaty, short of breath, or feel sick.
  • Persistent symptoms of indigestion could be a sign of a heart attack.


Not every chest pain is necessarily a need for concern. Harmless chest pains often have the following qualities:

  • Not well localised.
  • Lasts for hours to days.
  • Improves or intensifies, depending on the pressure over the area where the pain is situated.
  • Improves or intensifies with breathing or changing of position.
  • Can be a shooting pain.


If you suspect a person is having a heart attack, emergency measures should be taken.

What to do if the person is conscious

  • Help the person to sit back in an upright supported position on the floor.
  • Get someone to phone a doctor or ambulance service.
  • Reassure the person that help is on the way.
  • Stay calm.


What to do if the person is unconscious

  • Open the person’s airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin.
  • Look, listen and feel for signs of breathing.
  • Feel with your fingers for a pulse in the neck.


If the person is not breathing and you don’t feel a pulse:

  • Close the person’s nostrils with your finger and thumb.
  • Take a deep breath and place your mouth over the person’s mouth.
  • Blow into the person’s mouth until the chest expands, making sure there is no leak around the mouth.
  • Repeat once.
  • Find the notch at the bottom of the person’s breastbone.
  • Measure two finger-widths above this.
  • Place both hands on the breastbone.
  • Press down firmly, steadily and smoothly 15 times, at a rate of around 80 times per minute.
  • Keep repeating these steps until professional help arrives.


- (The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA)


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