When Should I Go to the ER for Chest Pain?

Emergency Heart Care

Heart attacks are emergencies. Ignoring your symptoms and delaying care can result in disability or even death. If you have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or comes and goes, call 911 or go to the closest ER.

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Chest pain is the most commonly reported symptom of heart attack in both men and women. But it doesn’t feel the same to everyone. Some people describe it as discomfort or pressure and others describe the pain as crushing—as though someone is sitting on your chest.

And not everyone experiences chest pain. In fact, as many as one in three heart attack survivors report having no chest pain at all, according to the American College of Cardiology.

Aside from chest pain or discomfort, the following symptoms are common during heart attack, especially in women:

  • Discomfort in the upper body, including one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea or lightheadedness

Know the symptoms of a heart attack, save a life. Download our Pocketguide signs of a heart attack now and keep it with you. See resource section at the top of this page.

Why Should I Go to an ER or Call 911?

Heart attack is an emergency that could lead to disability or death if not treated in time. Emergency rooms are equipped to rapidly diagnose and treat heart attacks.

Unless you’re just down the street from an ER, it’s best to call 911 if you think you’re having a heart attack. The medics can begin lifesaving treatment as soon as they reach you and continue care on the way to the hospital. They also will alert the hospital’s emergency room staff of your condition so a heart attack team can be assembled in preparation of your arrival. Ask to be transported to a hospital with specialized heart care, such as the four Penn Highlands Healthcare emergency room locations in Brookville, Clearfield, DuBois, and St. Marys.

Never drive yourself to the ER if you think you’re having a heart attack.

What will Happen in the ER if I Come in with Chest Pain?

Whether you arrive by car or ambulance, if you show up to the ER with chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, you will be seen promptly. The first step will be to get an electrocardiogram (ECG). This painless test uses electrodes to check your heart’s electrical activity. It can signal a heart event.

Next an ER doctor will evaluate you. He or she will ask questions about your health history and symptoms and perform a physical exam. You’ll then likely have bloodwork and possibly an X-ray or other imaging test.

What Type of Treatment will I Receive?

If the ER doctor determines you’re having a heart attack, he or she will advise you of the treatment plan, which might include medication, heart catheterization, or heart surgery. Medication is designed to dissolve a blood clot causing your heart attack, but that’s not always enough. Heart catheterization is a procedure in which a physician threads a needle and a tiny balloon through a blood vessel to your heart. He or she then inflates the balloon where the blockage is in your heart to open the vessel and allow blood to flow.

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