How To Respond To A Cardiac Emergency

Cardiac emergencies are an incredibly common occurrence. Each year, 475,000 Americans die from a cardiac arrest and another 805,000 have a heart attack. This threat is so prevalent that heart disease-related complications are one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

With that in mind, it’s important that each of us learn to recognize the signs of a heart attack or cardiac arrest, as well as how to respond effectively. Knowing how to respond, and doing so quickly can save the life of someone you know and love or even a complete stranger.


Recognizing the Signs of a Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest


In an emergency situation, it’s important to quickly determine what is happening in order to respond appropriately. For that reason, you should be familiar with the major signs of both cardiac arrest and heart attacks since the protocols for how to respond vary.


When someone is in cardiac arrest, the major symptoms are:

  • Loss of consciousness (fainting)
  • No heartbeat or faint pulse can be felt
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain


By contrast, when someone is having a heart attack, the major symptoms are:

  • Chest pain, tightness, or discomfort
  • Lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting
  • Neck, jaw, or back pain
  • Discomfort in the shoulder or arms
  • Shortness of breath


You’ll notice that some symptoms, such as shortness of breath, occur in both scenarios. But, learning the major differences between the two will help you to respond in a way that could save lives.


Responding to Cardiac Emergencies


Most medical professionals are required to acquire ACLS & PALS certifications, which help them to know exactly what to do during a cardiac emergency. Unfortunately, that information is not widely known outside of the medical community.  

Just as the symptoms of a heart attack and cardiac arrest differ, so do the appropriate responses to each situation.  

If you see someone that is clearly in cardiac arrest, the first step is to immediately begin administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). You should also make sure that the emergency medical personnel are on the way while doing it. Start administering defibrillation following the included instructions if a defibrillator is available.

By contrast, if you see someone having a heart attack, there are a variety of steps you should move through:

  1. Assuming it’s available, the person having a heart attack should chew and swallow an aspirin, unless they’re allergic or have been warned not to by their doctor.
  2. If the person is unconscious, immediately administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  3. If the person has been prescribed nitroglycerin, they should take it immediately. Taking non-prescribed nitroglycerin is prohibited as the wrong dose could pose a greater risk to the patient.
  4. If the person is unconscious, and an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, you should use it.


Final Thoughts


These basic steps are enough for anyone who isn’t a medical professional to respond effectively. If you’re a medical professional whose ACLS or PALS certifications have expired, we highly recommend renewing those, as this information is updated with the latest discoveries every few years.



HealthStatus teams with authors from organizations to share interesting ideas, products and new health information to our readers.

User Reviews


Your email address will not be published

16 + 10 =

Written by HealthStatus Crew
Medical Writer & Editor

HealthStatus teams with authors from organizations to share interesting ideas, products and new health information to our readers.

View all post by HealthStatus Crew