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How Can an Elderly Person Survive a Heart Attack on Their Own?

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

A heart attack is the result of a build-up of cholesterol, fat and other substances which cause plaque formation in the coronary arteries that supply blood flow to the heart. The plaque formation disrupts the blood flow which can cause damage to the heart muscle.

Heart attacks often occur when people are alone. The death of the cricketer Shane Warne from a heart attack in March 2022 shocked everyone who knew him. Aged just 52 and in good health, he had been alone at his house watching cricket when the attack happened. The news shocked the world of sport and brought to light just how deadly a heart attack can be if you’re on your own with no immediate access to support - especially if you're an elderly person.

Knowing what to do when heart attack symptoms arise can save your life. People do sometimes ignore the symptoms of an oncoming heart attack and sadly this can be fatal. Our guide will help you spot the symptoms and warning signs of an early heart attack, and advise on how to survive a heart attack on your own.

10 Signs you’re having a heart attack

When people have a heart attack, time is of the essence. The sooner you get help the better your chances are of survival. If you’re alone, the chances of getting that help are that much smaller. However, if you understand the heart attack warning signs, you may be able to take pre-emptive action. Here are ten signs to watch for.

  • Unusual tiredness

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms

  • A tightness or feeling of fullness in your chest which lasts more than a few minutes or is recurring

  • A feeling of anxiety or dread

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Trouble sleeping

  • A feeling like severe heartburn

  • Cold sweats, vomiting, nausea or a feeling of lightheadedness

  • An upset stomach

  • Feeling short of breath

Signs such as these will not necessarily mean you’re suffering a heart attack. They could symbolise several other things, and many people are wary about wasting the time of emergency medical staff. However, it’s better to have your GP examine the symptoms which may turn out to be nothing, than to ignore them and hope for the best.

What can cause a heart attack in your sleep?

Another time in which people can be vulnerable is when they are asleep. A heart attack can happen at any time, whether you’re awake or not. If you do have a heart attack in your sleep, symptoms may manifest themselves in disturbed sleep, sudden feelings of weakness, body aches or discomfort in the back or upper body.

Again, these symptoms might be dismissed by many people. Indeed, in most cases they will be nothing to worry about, but once again it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you have the symptoms, it’s worth getting urgent medical advice as soon as possible.

Is it possible to have a heart attack without knowing?

In some cases, it can be possible to have a heart attack and not know about it. This is known as a ‘silent heart attack’ and is one which has minimal or no symptoms, or symptoms which might not normally be associated with heart attacks. However, it works in exactly the same way in that blood is blocked in the coronary arteries and can be just as dangerous.

Because silent heart attacks are more difficult to spot, they can be even more dangerous. People are often slow to get the help they need. It can leave scarring around the heart and other damage which would leave the person more susceptible to heart disease without being aware of the danger they are in.

Therefore, it’s good to understand the risk factors and possible symptoms of a silent heart attack. As with other heart problems, people who are obese, smoke, are older or who have a family history of heart disease will be at a heightened risk. Symptoms can present themselves in a number of ways, including indigestion, a sense that you’ve strained a muscle in your upper chest, or discomfort in a part of the body such as the jaw or upper arm. Unexplained and prolonged fatigue can also be a symptom.

Silent heart attacks can also be difficult for doctors to diagnose. In many cases, symptoms can be dismissed as a panic attack or an indication of another disorder. If you’ve done your research and feel you may be experiencing a silent heart attack, it’s worth advocating for yourself to ensure you get the help that you need.

Surviving a heart attack on your own as an elderly person

Understanding the symptoms is key to helping you in surviving a heart attack, but the risks are still high. If you feel you are having a heart attack, there are a few things you can do:

  • Dial 999 for emergency treatment: the most important thing to do when you suspect a heart attack is to call emergency medical services. The quicker help gets to you, the higher the chances are of survival. The emergency dispatcher can also provide you with instructions on minimising the damage.

  • Contact someone to come over immediately: If you have a trustworthy neighbour or relatives or friends who live nearby, contacting them to come to meet you can be helpful if you suddenly go into cardiac arrest. Wearing a personal alarm means that you only need to press the SOS button to alert your loved ones of the situation.

  • Chew on an aspirin: As long as you’re not allergic to it, chewing on aspirin can be especially effective if done within 30 minutes of your first symptoms. This is because aspirin can delay the formation of blood clots that could further block the arteries during a heart attack. By chewing the aspirin, more of the medicine is released directly into the stomach which hastens the ability for it to get into the bloodstream.

  • Try to remain calm: You’ll understandably be worried, but the important thing to do is not to panic. Relax as much as possible to keep your heart rate steady and calm.

  • Lie down: While waiting for help to arrive, lie on your back and raise your legs upward. This opens up the diaphragm which makes it easier for you to breathe and supply oxygen to your blood. You could lie down on the floor with your legs propped up on a couch or chair, or prop your legs up on pillows or another object.

At the same time, there are plenty of things you should not do. Some people, for example, believe that coughing repeatedly may help dislodge the clot. However, this will probably make things much worse. Likewise, compression on the heart area is unlikely to do much to help the situation.

Whatever your age or physical health, it’s important to understand what’s happening to you and take appropriate precautions. While having a heart attack on your own can be extremely dangerous, taking a calm, measured approach is the best way to improve your chances of surviving and achieving a full recovery.

If you are an elderly person at risk of having a heart attack or fall under any of the risk factors we’ve mentioned, having a personal alarm could potentially save your life. Our personal alarms are available in a variety of models to suit everyone's needs, ranging from pendants and home devices to smart watches. Furthermore, many of our models are equipped with several useful safety features such as automatic fall detection and GPS tracking so you can feel safe and assured that if the worst does happen, help is just the click of a button away.

Call SureSafe’s team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to learn more about our personal alarms for people who are at risk of a heart attack.

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