Choosing the right hospital can be the key to surviving a heart attack, according to cardiologist Dr. Richard Stein, the director of preventive cardiology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and author of Outliving Heart Disease.

To find the best hospital in your area, he advises checking the Hospital Compare heart attack statistics at Do it now before an emergency. In addition, call the cardiology departments of several hospitals to find out which perform emergency angioplasty to open blocked arteries and if it is done less than 90 minutes after arrival at the hospital. (Medication can be used instead, but angioplasty is generally more effective if it's done soon after arrival.) If possible, pick a hospital where your doctor has admitting privileges

Heart Attack Survival Checklist

Know the symptoms. The classic heart attack symptoms are chest pain or discomfort that may also be felt in the neck or left arm and may be accompanied by nausea. Women are more likely than men to have atypical symptoms shortness of breath, profound fatigue, sweating, racing heart, burning stomach.

Call 911 for an ambulance to take you to the hospital immediately if you experience symptoms. Don't let embarrassment or concern that it is something minor prevent you from getting it checked out.

Chew two full-strength aspirin.

Tell ambulance and hospital staff that you think you are having a heart attack. Don't minimize your symptoms.

Have the appropriate tests, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) and blood tests to measure certain cardiac enzymes. Stein notes that women who experience the atypical symptoms cited above (or their health advocates) may need to be assertive to get these tests.

According to Stein, accurate diagnosis may require several EKGs and/or blood tests within the first few hours.

In 2000, Vice President Dick Cheney experienced chest and shoulder pain. The initial EKG and blood tests showed no evidence of a heart attack. However, several hours later, the second set of tests revealed that he had indeed had a minor heart attack.

Get the proper treatment. The following treatment should begin even before all of the test results are in...

Aspirin immediately if you did not take it at home.

A beta-blocker, such as metoprolol(Lopressor) or propranolol (Inderal) to reduce the heart's need for oxygen-rich blood and to minimize heart damage.

Nitroglycerin to dilate blood vessels if the heart is short of blood or the patient is experiencing chest pain.

An ACE inhibitor to decrease blood pressure and the heart's workload.

Clot-busting treatments, which can include the drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), and/ or angioplasty.

Save this article so you can take it with you to the ER. I hope that you will never need it, but if you do, it may save your life.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in