The best position for a heart attack is to be seated or lying down, whichever is more comfortable. It is important to call 911 rather than wait for symptoms to pass.

Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack occurs when something blocks blood flow to the heart. This blockage reduces the heart’s oxygen supply and can lead to the injury or death of part of the heart’s muscle.

The heart continues to beat during a heart attack. If it stops beating, this is known as a cardiac arrest. Sometimes heart attacks lead to cardiac arrest, so it is crucial a person gets medical help.

This article discusses the best position for a heart attack, what to do while waiting for help, what not to do, how to help someone else having a heart attack, and the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

Is it a heart attack?

Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweaty or clammy skin
  • heartburn or indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  2. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:

  1. Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
  2. Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
  3. Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
  4. Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
  5. If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.

Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:

  1. An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
  2. Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
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The first step to take when experiencing or witnessing heart attack symptoms is to call 911.

The best position to be in during a heart attack is one that reduces the workload on the heart. This could be either sitting or lying down.

A heart attack can cause lightheadedness, so it is also important that the affected person is in a safe position if they lose consciousness. If they remain seated, they may benefit from physical support, such as a wall or stable piece of furniture.

A good place to sit is on the floor. This makes it easier for someone to reposition the affected person to administer CPR if the heart attack leads to cardiac arrest.

If a person is alone during a heart attack, it is safer to sit or lie down in a location where first responders can easily find them.

Anyone home alone while experiencing heart attack symptoms should call 911, then unlock their front door so first responders can quickly enter.

The person can then sit or lie down close to the door where they are easy to find.

Take aspirin

A person waiting for medical help for heart attack symptoms can take aspirin if they do not have an aspirin allergy.

However, the American Heart Association recommends a person speak with a 911 operator first. This is because aspirin increases bleeding risk and is not safe for everyone to take.

During a heart attack, blood clotting cells called platelets activate. Aspirin blocks this activation and reduces blood clotting.

Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. Using acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) instead of aspirin will not have the same clot-reducing effect.

Take nitroglycerin

If a person has a nitroglycerin prescription, taking their regular dose of this medication may relieve heart attack chest pain. However, people should not take any medication before checking with a 911 operator or first responder.

The most common reason someone should not take nitroglycerin is if they recently took sildenafil (Viagra), as these medications interact.

Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator. It widens blood vessels and allows blood to circulate more easily. This reduces the heart’s workload.

The most common form of nitroglycerin is a tablet that a person takes sublingually, which means it is dissolved under the tongue. It takes 1–3 minutes to work and reaches its maximum effectiveness after 5 minutes.

A healthcare professional may recommend taking aspirin and nitroglycerin together or to take aspirin first.

A 2021 study found that taking aspirin 10 minutes before nitroglycerin for acute coronary syndrome reduced subjective pain. It also reduced the need for additional nitroglycerin or opioids.

Acute coronary syndrome is any type of medical event involving reduced blood flow to the heart, such as heart attack or angina.

The 2021 study also notes that guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend that people experiencing acute coronary syndrome take aspirin and up to three doses of nitroglycerine, with 5 minutes between each dose.

Some things are not helpful during a heart attack, including:

  • waiting to see whether symptoms will pass
  • assuming a person is too young or fit to have a cardiac event
  • administering CPR if the affected person is awake and has a pulse
  • attempting a “precordial thump,” which is a hit to the chest that can cause catastrophic injury when done incorrectly

Actions to avoid for the person having symptoms include:

  • continuing physical activity
  • eating any food, which may lead to choking if they vomit
  • driving themselves to the hospital, unless there is no ambulance service or anyone else to drive
  • using tobacco or alcohol while taking nitroglycerin
  • attempting “cough CPR,” which can cause arrhythmia

A person witnessing someone experiencing heart attack symptoms can help in the following ways:

  • calling 911 immediately and following the operator’s instructions
  • helping the affected person get comfortable by sitting or lying down
  • bringing them aspirin and their nitroglycerin if the 911 operator approves it
  • making a list of the person’s current medications for first responders or gathering medications in one place to show first responders
  • helping keep the affected person calm
  • encouraging the person to relax and rest as much as they are able
  • monitoring their vital signs: breathing rate, pulse, consciousness, etc.
  • opening the door for first responders
  • driving the person to a hospital only if there is no first responder or ambulance service
  • performing CPR compressions if the person loses consciousness and has no pulse, or using an automated external defibrillator (AED) if there is one available

During a heart attack, the heart continues to beat, so CPR is not necessary. If a person is conscious and responsive, their heart is beating.

If a heart attack leads to a cardiac arrest — when the heart stops beating — CPR can maintain the person’s circulation until first responders arrive. During cardiac arrest, a person becomes unresponsive and has no pulse.

Heart attack symptoms can vary widely. Some symptoms can start slowly and may be mild. Some people may not even experience chest pain. Others may experience sudden symptoms or symptoms that come and go.

Warning signs of a heart attack include:

Even with mild symptoms, a heart attack is a medical emergency requiring prompt care.

Anyone witnessing or experiencing heart attack symptoms should call 911 immediately.

The best position during a heart attack is one that reduces the heart’s workload and eliminates the possibility of a fall injury. Examples include lying down or sitting with support.

If a person is alone while having heart attack symptoms, unlocking the front door if they are able and staying nearby makes it easier for first responders to get to them.