Sudden cardiac death is the most common cause of death in Germany – and the second most common in the mountains. Alpine climbers do not generally belong to the traditional at-risk group. But incidents involving heart problems can occur on the rock face or you may encounter a person who has suddenly been taken ill during your approach or descent.
A heart attack can be indicated by a range of symptoms. Some are well known, others less so. Typical symptoms include: pressure on the chest, diffuse pain radiating to the left shoulder and arm, respiratory problems – including difficulty breathing. Other symptoms which can also indicate a heart attack include diffuse pain in the abdomen, back, right shoulder or jaw, and also nausea.
Sometimes a heart attack can present without pain.
In many cases, there may also be the symptoms for shock, including a cold sweat, paleness, bluish lips and severe anxiety.
If there is reason to suspect a heart attack, you should make an emergency call as soon as possible. Rapid hospitalization means rapid assistance and an improved chance of recovery.
If the ill person is wearing restrictive clothing, loosen it at the neck. Release the hip and chest straps of the backpack and remove or loosen the climbing harness if necessary.
In addition to making an emergency call, it is vital to keep the ill person calm and provide psychological support. One excellent method is to sit behind the person and let them lean against you. This creates warmth and a feeling of security. At the same time the helper can talk reassuringly to the person.
If you have a bivy bag, place it under the ill person, ideally with an empty backpack underneath for insulation. Then wait together for the rescue team to arrive.