How to Recognize and Care For Cardiac Emergencies


A cardiac emergency is a life-threatening issue that can occur to any age victim. Being able to recognize and care for a person experiencing a cardiac emergency can greatly increase their chance of survival. When a person’s heart suffers a loss of oxygenated blood, the result is myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. The sooner the signs of a heart attack are recognized and acted upon, the more likely the victim’s life can be saved.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest discomfort
  • Upper body discomfort, including one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or lightheadedness
  • Cold sweat or pale/ashen skin, especially around the face.

The major signal of a heart attack is persistent chest discomfort or pressure. Many heart attacks begin slowly and cause mild pain or discomfort. The pain may become more constant and spread to other areas of the body, such as the shoulder or jaw. Any severe chest pain that lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes, goes away and returns, or continues, even during rest, will require immediate medical assistance.

Caring for Someone Having a Heart Attack

  • First, call 9-1-1 (or your local emergency response number) to summon EMS personnel.
  • Have the victim rest comfortably in a safe location
  • Loosen any tight or uncomfortable clothing
  • Monitor and comfort the victim closely until EMS arrives
  • If medical direction permits, give the victim aspirin (if they can swallow and have no known contraindications)
  • Also, assist the victim with any prescribed medication
  • If properly trained, be prepared to perform CPR or use an AED

Understanding Cardiac Arrest

Often caused by a heart attack, cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating or is beating too irregularly or weakly to circulate blood effectively. Cardiac arrest can occur suddenly, without warning, and is extremely life-threatening.

Cardiac Arrest Signs Include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • No breathing
  • No pulse

Responding to Cardiac Arrest

If a victim is unconscious with no pulse they need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). CPR is a combination of rescue breaths and chest compressions. If a person is in need of CPR the EMS should be summoned immediately and if available (and in accordance with local protocols) and automated external defibrillator (AED) should be used.

To learn how to effectively provide CPR or operate and AED machine look for local programs to become trained and certified in those skills.