Chest Pain and Calling 911: What You Need to Know


It’s the moment of truth: your chest hurts and you’re having a hard time catching your breath. Your loved one wants to call 911 but you’re not so sure – it could just be indigestion or something minor. You decide to have your loved one drive you over to the ER. After all, 911 is for emergencies – and surely your chest pain isn’t an actual emergency, right?

Wrong. If you are having a heart attack, calling 911 could save your life.

911 and Heart Attacks

When an artery to the heart unexpectedly closes, it causes a heart attack. The number one symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. Additional symptoms include having a difficult time breathing, as well as being sweaty and pale. Heart attack symptoms differ from cardiac arrest – in most cases, heart attack patients are awake and alert, which cardiac arrest patients are non-response and often not breathing.

When you, a loved one or a coworker call 911 to request assistance for chest pain, the dispatcher will send paramedics to your location. Once the paramedics arrive, they will immediately set up electrocardiogram (EKG) stickers on your chest. The EKG stickers are placed in specific locations and provide the paramedics with a printout of the heart’s current activity and output.

During a cardiac event, every moment counts. Once the paramedics are on the scene and begin administering the EKG, a heart attack can be diagnosed within two minutes. This jump-starts the treatment timeline and can help give the patient a positive outcome.

“Time is important because time is muscle,” says Dr. DP Suresh, Cardiologist and Medical Director of the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute. “Every minute that the heart doesn’t see blood supply, the heart muscle starts to die. The sooner we can open the artery and restore blood flow, the less the heart muscle suffers.”

The cardiac experts at St. Elizabeth state that the national benchmark for re-opening the heart artery is under 90 minutes during a heart attack; however, St. Elizabeth strives to re-open the artery within 60 minutes.

How can a 911 call help during a heart attack?

Having paramedics involved in the early diagnosis of a heart attack is a big – and possibly lifesaving – benefit to both the patient. It also helps the medical team at the hospital prepare accordingly for the patient’s arrival.

“The benefit for the heart attack patient is significant,” says Dr. Suresh. “We can bypass the ER entirely and take the patient straight to the Cardiac Cath Lab to open their artery.”

In a world where timing is everything, this especially holds true for urgent medical care. If you or a loved one are in a possible heart attack situation, don’t hesitate – call 911 to request immediate medical assistance. It might help save a life.

Additional heart attack resources

St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Alexandria fire department have partnered up to create a Heart Attack Drill video, a live simulation that provides helpful tips, information and resources about the importance of immediate medical attention during a heart attack.

For more information on comprehensive cardiac services or be connected with a cardiologists at the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, please call (859) 301-4373.