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Heart attack while alone? Here's what to do to stay alive

By NICK GARCIA Published Mar 06, 2024 10:43 pm

Heart disease is the main cause of death in the country, according to data gathered by the Philippine Statistics Authority from January to September 2023.

The latest data from the PSA showed a total of 85,192 cases of ischemic heart disease or 19% of total deaths in the Philippines within the given period. The condition, when suddenly turned severe, can lead to a heart attack that could threaten your life.

Since it could happen any time, it’s best to be aware of its warning signs as well as what you should and shouldn't do even in case you experience it by yourself. Read on to know more about heart attack and how you can increase your chances of survival if you suffer it alone.

What's a heart attack and how does it develop?

According to cardiologist Marcellus Ramirez, myocardial infarction or heart attack is "an emergency condition characterized by sudden chest pain, sometimes accompanied by shortness of breath, caused by sudden obstruction of a blood vessel supplying blood and oxygen to the heart."

Referring to it as a "potentially fatal condition," he said it's the most common cause of cardiovascular death.

Ramirez told PhilSTAR L!fe that it develops when a cholesterol plaque—a lesion composed of cholesterol, connective tissue, and white blood cells—in the blood vessel (coronary artery) "suddenly ruptures and leads to a reaction in the blood that results in a clot formed which totally occludes the vessel, eventually leading to sudden decrease in blood supply to a segment of the heart."

Surviving a heart attack when you're alone

Cardiologist Nyssa Panlilio said the symptoms of heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, as well as discomfort in the heart, jaw, neck, and stomach.

Ramirez added that nausea and cold sweats are also among its warning signs.

Both cardio experts said that the best thing you can do in case you suffer a heart attack alone is to call for help and have them bring you to the emergency room as soon as possible.

If no one can take you to the hospital and you're physically able to drive yourself there, Ramirez said it could be an option as you could still be stable enough to do so "during its early stage."

"You can also take aspirin or nitroglycerin if it was previously prescribed to you. Do not self-medicate," Panlilio stressed in an interview with L!fe.

"Don't do anything strenuous, and don't just wait for the symptoms to subside on their own," she added.

It's also believed that coughing vigorously could stop a heart attack, but Panlilio noted that it's a myth. "There's no connection between the two," she clarified.

As stated in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, several heart associations have warned against this known technique during heart attacks as it "can cause delays in contacting emergency services, thus causing worse conditions."

How can you prevent a heart attack?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading risk factors for heart attack include lifestyle—such as a diet high in fat and cholesterol, lack of physical activity, alcoholism, and tobacco use—and health conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Age and family history are also uncontrollable risk factors. Older people are at risk of a heart attack, while traits of a heart condition may be passed down.

To prevent a heart attack, Ramirez highlighted the importance of living a healthy lifestyle by engaging in physical activities, following a balanced diet, cutting down on sugar, not smoking, and controlling blood pressure.

"Having regular checkups and screenings for heart disease could also help as you're able to monitor your cardiovascular health," added Panlilio. (with reports from Brooke Villanueva)