How to respond to a heart attack

If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.

What is a heart attack?

Having one or more signs or symptoms of a heart attack means this is a life-threatening emergency — call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.

It is advised NOT to drive the patient to the hospital yourself, as you may need to perform CPR.

A heart attack happens when the supply of blood to part of the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)

Signs and Symptoms

General symptoms

The warning signs of heart attack vary. Symptoms can start suddenly, or develop over time and get progressively worse. People can have just one symptom or a combination of symptoms. The patient can feel discomfort or pain in the centre of the chest.

This chest pain can:

      • start suddenly, or slowly over minutes
      • be described as tightness, heaviness, fullness or squeezing
      • be severe, moderate or mild

Chest pain may spread from:

      • discomfort in the neck or a choking or burning feel in the throat
      • an ache, heaviness or pressure around one or both shoulders
      • pain, discomfort, heaviness or uselessness in one or both arms
      • an ache or tightness in/around the jaw
      • a dull ache between the shoulder blades
      • pain, heaviness, tightness or crushing

Not all patients feel chest discomfort (more than 40% of women do not experience chest pain*).

Other symptoms the patient may feel include:

  • short of breath
  • nauseous
  • faint or dizzy
  • a cold sweat

*The Heart Foundation, 

What to do




Encourage the patient to immediately stop what they are doing and rest.


Help the patient to sit or lie down in a comfortable position.


Reassure the patient. Loosen any tight clothing.


If the patient has been prescribed medication such as a tablet or mouth spray to treat episodes of chest pain or discomfort associated with angina, help them to take this as they have been directed.

Ask the patient to describe their symptoms. If any of the symptoms are severe, get worse quickly, or have lasted 10 minutes, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and stay on the phone. Wait for advice from the operator.

Give 300 milligrams of aspirin (usually one tablet) unless the patient is allergic to aspirin or their doctor has warned them against taking aspirin.

Stay with the patient until medical aid arrives.


Be prepared to give CPR if symptoms worsen.



Heart attack fact sheet

CPR wallet card

Related advice

How to perform CPR on an adult

If an adult is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you need to call 000 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. Learn what to do.

How to perform CPR on an infant

If an infant is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you need to call 000 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. Learn what to do.

DRSABCD Action Plan

The St John DRSABCD Action Plan is crucial in assessing whether a patient has any life-threatening conditions and if any immediate first aid is necessary.

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