Aspirin: Heart-attack first aid
If you think you are having a heart attack, taking an aspirin at the first sign of symptoms may save your life.
As soon as a call comes into our 911 center, our dispatchers are trained to recommend taking one adult-strength aspirin (325 milligrams) or four “baby” aspirin (81 milligrams) after they run through a checklist that confirms your symptoms and rules out contraindications such as allergies to aspirin therapy. Our first responders also carry aspirin among their emergency medicines and supplies.
Aspirin is an anticoagulant that makes the clot causing your heart attack smaller, helping to maintain blood flow through the narrowed artery.
Without blood and oxygen, heart tissue deteriorates and dies. Quick restoration of circulation is the surest way to prevent heart damage. Every second counts. More damage is done the longer blood flow is impeded. That’s why we recommend chewing your aspirin to speed digestion.
Studies have shown that aspirin reduces the risk of death by approximately 23 percent. While other medication therapies have come and gone, aspirin has been shown to save lives for more than two decades.
Common heart attack symptoms include chest pain and/or pressure, pain emanating from the chest to other areas of the body, shortness of breath, sense of impending doom, sweating, fainting and nausea. Additional or different symptoms for women may include abdominal pain or heartburn, clammy skin, lightheadedness or dizziness and unexplained fatigue.
Many people confuse aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin) with common, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), but aspirin is the only one that plays a role in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Always look for aspirin as the active ingredient.
Anyone who is at risk for stroke or heart attack should have aspirin safely stored in the house. Children under the age of 17 with flu-like illness should never be given aspirin, because of the concern about Reyes Syndrome, a potentially deadly disease affecting the brain and liver.
Even though it is widely available without a prescription, aspirin is a drug with the potential for toxic overdoses and side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding and drug interference. In some cases, risks may outweigh protective benefits. People should not engage in any type of aspirin therapy unless directed by a physician.
In the event of cardiac arrest, chest compression CPR is another intervention that can be started immediately at the scene to improve the chance of survival until EMS arrives. Research has shown that chest compression CPR saves more lives than traditional CPR with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Grady is an accredited Chest Pain Center that works closely with city and county EMS to ensure rapid response and advanced intervention. Our squads make nearly 10,000 runs a year. Transmission of EKG results from the field enables our emergency department physicians to diagnose heart attacks and prepare appropriate treatment before the patient arrives at the hospital. Should patients require critical care transport to Grant Medical Center or Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, we have a protocol in place that meets and often beats the national gold standard for speed of care.
Khanh Thai, MD, is an Emergency Room physician at Grady Memorial Hospital and medical director of the Delaware County and Delaware City EMS.