Wellness Matters

Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms? Call 911!

December 09, 2016

It's crucial to dial 911 immediately when symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke surface instead of taking a wait-and-see approach or driving yourself or a loved one to the hospital.

Brain tissue dies rapidly when a stroke cuts blood flow to the brain. We urge people to act immediately when they identify stroke symptoms by calling 911.

Arriving via emergency medical service (EMS) allows the patient to bypass the usual ED triage process and be seen immediately by providers who have been prenotified and are there waiting, all of which saves precious time.

Similarly, when it comes to heart attacks, the longer it takes to receive treatment the more heart tissue is irreparably damaged. When you call 911 immediately, outcomes improve.


Research shows that stroke patients who arrive at hospitals via an EMS that notifies the hospital are evaluated faster and are more likely to receive brain imaging and have it interpreted by a physician in a timely manner than those arriving by private transport.

In cases of stroke or heart attack, that timing can be the difference between speedy recovery and long-term disability or death. EMS responders are trained to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke and to monitor glucose, cardiac arrhythmias or elevated blood pressures. They can start peripheral IVs and administer IV fluids on the way to the ED so treatment can begin immediately upon arrival.

As the medical director of the Stroke Center at The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, Dr. Sethi collaborates with a team of nurses, neurologists and interventional radiologists available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to treat acute stroke patients. It’s important to quickly assess symptoms of a heart attack or stroke so you can immediately call 911. Dr. Sethi and his staff suggest remembering the acronym FAST to recognize a stroke:

  • Face: Sudden weakness of the face 
  • Arms: Sudden weakness of an arm 
  • Speech: Sudden difficulty speaking 
  • Time: Record the time the symptoms started

Contrary to the conventional image of heart attacks, most heart attack victims start with only mild pain and aren't sure they’re having a heart attack. Signs of a heart attack include:
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or is intermittent
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • A cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness or unusual fatigue
Never hesitate in the case of any of the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. Waiting to call 911 can be a deadly mistake.

About the Author


Dr. Pramod Sethi


Pramod Sethi, MD is a Neurologist at Cone Health's Stroke Center

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