Surviving a Heart Attack Alone


Having a heart attack is scary no matter what the circumstance, but if you are alone and having chest pain you need to be prepared.

Daniel Zalkind, MD, Cardiologist at the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute warns, “A heart attack can begin as chest pain and quickly progress to sudden cardiac arrest. Statistics tell us if you don’t call 911 during the initial chest pain and it progresses to cardiac arrest, if you are completely alone, you have only an 11 percent chance of survival.”

Whether you live alone or you just find yourself alone in certain situations the key to survival is recognizing a heart attack and taking the right steps to get help.

Recognizing the Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Dr. Zalkind said the main symptom of a heart attack is chest pain and tightness. If you have never had a heart attack before, you may not recognize the nature of the pain immediately. If you have had a heart attack before, you may recognize your pain more quickly.

Signs of a heart attack:

  • Squeezing or pressure in chest lasting more than 10 minutes.
  • Pain or discomfort in your arm or back, especially your left arm.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.

Signs of a heart attack for women may be different. They may not recognize the chest pain and are more likely to experience shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and back pain.

What to Do If You Are Alone and Having a Heart Attack

  • Call 911 immediately – Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can begin treatment immediately and alert the hospital to your arrival.
  • If you are driving, pull over in a safe location write down where you are and call 911. If possible find a location around other people or flag someone down, so you are not alone while you wait for the ambulance – do not drive yourself.
  • Give the 911 operator exact directions to your location. If you are in a multi-story building, let them know the floor you are on and directions to your exact location. If you are in a remote location alone, try to get to an area where the EMS or someone else can find you.
  • Notify your family – let them know you have called 911 and they are on their way.
  • Chew a 325mg aspirin – chewing slowly on an aspirin can help slow down the heart attack.
  • If you are diabetic, test your blood sugar – the information will be useful to EMS when they arrive.

Don’t be afraid that it isn’t a heart attack. If you don’t call 911 immediately, a heart attack can progress quickly, and you could lose consciousness.

Often your best friend in a situation like this is a total stranger that has learned how to perform CPR. There are countless stories of people trained in CPR saving a life, especially when a heart attack occurs in a remote location. Performing CPR until paramedics arrive can mean the difference between life and death. If you encounter someone having a heart attack, knowing just a few steps can make a lifesaving difference.