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VOL. 13 NO. 1
Take a class

Heart attack at sea

What to do when you’re having a heart attack

Heart attack at sea

Picture this: You’re on your boat. You’re alone. You start to experience a heart attack. What do you do?

First, did you know that heart attack symptoms differ in men and women?

Signs of a heart attack in women

  • Disturbed sleep and extreme fatigue. Women report feeling as if they have the flu or are unusually tired up to a month before a heart attack, with no accompanying chest pain in this early time period.
  • Chest pain or discomfort. Women sometimes describe discomfort as “pressure,” “fullness” or “heartburn.”
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck or stomach
  • Cold, clammy sweat
  • Shortness of breath or feelings of breathlessness, especially when you haven’t been exercising
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Signs of a heart attack in men

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Severe sensation of chest pressure
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck or stomach
  • Cold, clammy sweat
  • Shortness of breath or feelings of breathlessness, especially when you haven’t been exercising
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

So what can you do if you're alone on your boat when you start having a heart attack?

  • Remain calm.
  • Carry a bottle of aspirin. Chewing one aspirin tablet will not cure a heart attack or make symptoms go away, but it may help slow or reduce clotting and blockage around the site of a ruptured plaque. According to Bayer Healthcare USA, while all aspirin products have a slight acidic, vinegary smell, if it stings your nose it might not be as effective. Check the expiration date. Unless you’ve had an allergic reaction in the past, a low dosage (75-325 mg) is recommended, but it’s important to ask your doctor whether or not you should even be taking aspirin.
  • A reduction in effort is essential, i.e., don't try to sail home, drive to a hospital, etc.
  • Always carry a VHF radio (or a cellphone if that is practical) so you can radio for help immediately.
  • Note the time. This can help the doctors when they treat you.
  • Take a CPR class. You might not be able to use it on yourself, but you might be able to save someone else’s life.

Editor’s note: Please seek immediate medical attention if you think you are having a heart attack.

This article was originally published in Waterlog, newsletter of Atlanta Sail & Power Squadron/17.

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