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Expert Q&A

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What medicine should I take first during a heart attack?

Asked by Joseph Chang, Owensboro, Kentucky

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If you're having heart attack, which medicine should you take first : nitroglycerin or 325 mg aspirin?

Expert Bio Picture

Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert Answer:

A heart attack is the permanent death of heart muscle. It is usually because of a blockage in one of the coronary arteries providing blood to the heart.

A less than total blockage can cause heart pain, or angina ,along with sweating and shortness of breath. This can be treated with nitroglycerin under the tongue or on the skin.

The drug causes a relaxation of muscle in the wall of the coronary artery. This causes the artery to dilate, so more blood can flow. It can avert a heart attack.

Blood tries to clot when it's not flowing. Aspirin prevents blood from clotting in a blocked or partially blocked artery.

We often recommend that patients take an aspirin while having a heart problem. Many people take a baby aspirin or an adult aspirin daily to prevent such. I always suggest you consult your physician, but I believe that nitroglycerin should be administered first.

Someone who is already on aspirin may not benefit from an additional aspirin during a crisis.

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