If you have the least suspicion that you’re having a heart attack, the most important life-saving measure is to call 911 – get help immediately. While you’re waiting, is it better to cough or take aspirin? Contrary to a popular and misleading “urgent” message that’s been circulating in cyberspace since 2003, that recommends coughing as a form of “self-CPR,” more responsible medical sources strongly recommend aspirin – chewing it, not swallowing it whole in the way we usually take pills. From the Harvard Health Letter:
What kind of aspirin? Take a regular-strength (325-mg) aspirin pill that is not enteric-coated. Don’t swallow it; chew it, and then swallow it with a glass of water. Doing it that way gets the aspirin into your system rapidly, which is what you want. In an impending heart attack, a blood clot is forming in one of your heart’s arteries, blocking the blood supply to a part of your heart. Aspirin can help dissolve the clot before there’s permanent damage to the heart.
If it turns out that your symptoms were not caused by an impending heart attack after all, that’s fine; chewing the one aspirin pill won’t hurt. And it could save your life.
I’m going to do two things: First, I’m going to carry around a couple of non-coated aspirin in a tiny plastic pouch and keep it in my pocket rosary case – which I’ll reach for anyway. Secondly, I going to continue to respond to the well-meaning (but too lazy to do a 30-second Google search) friends who think they’re doing a favor by circulating misleading information.
If I ever do have strong symptoms of a heart attack, after 911 is summoned and I chew the aspirin, I may try coughing too, especially if I feel my heart beating irregularly. But I will be anxiously awaiting the sound of sirens.
(Note: while aspirin may help prevent a stroke and may be advised after a stroke, it is dangerous to take it during a stroke, say, at the onset of symptoms. If stroke symptoms are caused by bleeding in the brain rather than a clot, there’s a high risk it will make it worse!)