In the wilderness, a heart attack can quickly become a matter of life and death. Most people are familiar with the basics of CPR, but in a remote setting, this lifesaving technique is often not enough.
If you find yourself in the wilderness without access to medical help, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of survival.
First, it is important to stay calm and focused. If possible, find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down. Then, take several deep breaths and try to relax your body as much as possible so that you can decide what you should do.
You really only have two options: wait for help or walk out. What would you do?
The answer to this depends on the circumstances.
What to do if you have a heart attack in the Wilderness?
The first thing is – are you actually having a heart attack?
Are you sure you are having a heart attack? You could be having muscle pain, indigestion, or tightness in the chest. Although these might be important questions, the answer is not so easy to figure out without being in a hospital.
If you have any suspicion that you may be having a heart attack, your best bet is to try and get help as soon as possible, through whatever means you feel like gives you the best option to get help quickly.
Your best chances of survival are getting help within the first hour. This increases our chances dramatically.
Option 1: Walking – To Walk or Not to Walk?
If you think you are having a heart attack, your heart needs as little stress on it as possible. The amount of blood you have going to your heart has already been compromised, so any exertion increases the chance it will sustain more damage.
Keep in mind that when treated early on, within the first hour of a heart attack gives you the best chance of survival. Knowing that, walking out depends on:
- Are you alone?
- Do you have a cell phone?
- Do have a friend with you?
- If you can get help, how long will it take?
Option 2: Rest – Should You Rest?
If you think you’re having a heart attack, stop walking and rest for a while, at least initially. While you’re resting, you can figure out your next step. One of two things could happen from here:
- The pain could stay the same and even get worse
- Or the pain could get better
If resting relieves the pain, then try walking again and see if you have a problem. If the pain continues, you need to re-think things.
However, if you are by yourself with no chance at all of getting help, there is not much of an alternative – but to try and walk out.
Option 3: Wait – Could You Wait It Out?
If the pain continues, you could wait it out for a while longer and see if the pain subsides.
On the other hand, the heart requires more oxygen with exercise. If more stress is put on the heart with exercise, it may get damaged even more.
Many people have survived a heart attack with just rest (though that would be insane to try – if you could get expert help).
If you do decide to wait it out – and you expect to wait sometime, you’ll have to figure out food, water, and shelter. Dehydration alone makes your blood circulate less efficiently.
Since a heart takes several weeks to heal, you might not be able to wait that long and you would have to confront the same circumstances.
You could, however, wait for as long as you feel like you can (before food and rations run out) before trying to walk out.
Do you feel lucky?
You have cell service
If you are one of the lucky ones, have your cell phone on you and have service, then you can call a rescue helicopter. Although, you still may have to decide whether to walk out, because a helicopter could take an hour to get there.
When you call 911, they should be able to walk you through what you should do.
A friend is with you
If you have a friend with you, they should go for help. Though something to think about:
- Leaving you alone may increase the stress levels in your body which could further elevate blood pressure and damage the heart.
- If your friend leaves, you’ll have no one there to administer CPR if your heart stops.
- Even though it is rare for a person to survive with only CPR, if they need it, you will likely need medication and an AED.
If there’s no chance of getting help unless your friend walks out to find someone to come, it probably is worth the risk to leave you.
How Do You Know If You’re Having a Heart Attack?
Classic symptoms that might tell that you are having a heart attack are:
- chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest
- pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- shortness of breath
- feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- an overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
- coughing or wheezing
It is not always so easy to tell. As you can see there can be very minor symptoms displayed, even though it is a major problem.
How to survive a heart attack in the wilderness when there is no doctor – Step by step
1. Chew up and swallow an aspirin. It could help keep the clot in your artery from getting worse.
2. Lie down and try to relax. Relaxing might be asking a lot, but you want to put as little physical and mental stress on your heart as possible.
3. Asses your situation. Once the pain has reduced, you can decide on what to do from here, depending on what options are available.
Tips to Survive
- Get in as much oxygen as you can. If you have a canister, use it.
- Try to stay warm. Use a blanket if necessary. The body doesn’t function as well and has to use more energy if you’re cold.
- Use any medicine you have for pain. This one is self-explanatory.
Be prepared when you go into the wilderness. Be sure you have a first-aid kit, cell phone, asprin and tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. That way, if something does happen, rescue crews will have a better chance of finding you quickly so that if you have a heart attack in the wilderness, you will have a better chance to make it out alive.