Cardiac Emergencies in Wilderness Environments

Cardiac Emergencies in Wilderness Environments


Cardiac emergencies in wilderness environments pose unique challenges due to the isolation and lack of immediate medical resources. Understanding how to recognize and respond to these emergencies can be life-saving. This comprehensive guide focuses on identifying cardiac emergencies, providing initial care, and navigating the complexities of managing heart-related crises in remote settings.

Recognizing Cardiac Emergencies

1. Types of Cardiac Emergencies

  • Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction): Caused by a blockage in the heart's arteries.
  • Arrhythmias: Irregular heartbeats that can be life-threatening, such as ventricular fibrillation.
  • Angina: Chest pain resulting from reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.

2. Common Symptoms

  • Chest Pain or Discomfort: Often described as pressure, squeezing, or fullness.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing.
  • Other Signs: Dizziness, fainting, excessive sweating, nausea, and palpitations.

Initial Response and Care

1. Primary Assessment

  • Check Responsiveness: Determine the level of consciousness.
  • Call for Help: Activate emergency response systems immediately if available.
  • ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation): Ensure the airway is open, check breathing, and monitor circulation.

2. CPR and AED Use

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Start CPR immediately if the person is unresponsive and not breathing normally.
  • Automated External Defibrillator (AED): If available, use it as soon as possible. AEDs can be crucial in cases of ventricular fibrillation.

3. Position and Comfort

  • Positioning: Keep the person in a comfortable position, usually sitting up slightly, to ease breathing.

Advanced Management in the Wilderness

1. Medication Administration

  • Aspirin: If available and the person is conscious and able to swallow, administer aspirin to help prevent blood clotting.
  • Nitroglycerin: For individuals with a known history of heart disease who carry their medication.

2. Monitoring and Observation

  • Vital Signs: Monitor heart rate, breathing rate, and look for any changes in the skin color or temperature.
  • Symptom Assessment: Continuously assess for changes or worsening of symptoms.

Evacuation and Long-Term Management

  • Evacuation Decision: Prioritize rapid evacuation for anyone suspected of having a cardiac emergency.
  • Ongoing Care During Evacuation: Continuously monitor the patient’s condition and provide care as needed.
  • Documentation: Keep detailed records of all care provided, symptoms observed, and vital signs for handover to medical professionals.

Training and Preparedness

  • Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Training: These courses provide essential skills for handling cardiac emergencies in remote settings.
  • Regular Practice: Regularly refresh CPR skills and familiarize yourself with the use of AEDs.
  • Emergency Communication Plan: Have a plan for communication and evacuation in the event of a cardiac emergency.


Cardiac emergencies in the wilderness require prompt recognition, immediate response, and effective management until professional medical care is available. Adequate preparation, training, and having a clear plan can significantly improve the outcomes of cardiac emergencies in remote environments.

References/Further Reading

  1. "Wilderness Medicine" by Paul S. Auerbach: Offers extensive information on managing medical emergencies, including cardiac issues, in remote areas.
  2. "Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)" by American Heart Association: Provides guidelines on managing severe cardiac conditions.
  3. "Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine" by Paul S. Auerbach, Howard J. Donner, and Eric A. Weiss: This field guide includes practical advice for managing emergencies, including cardiac events, outside of hospital settings.
  4. Online Courses and Resources: Websites such as the American Red Cross and Wilderness Medical Society offer courses and resources for managing health emergencies in the wilderness, including cardiac emergencies.
  5. Simulation Training: Engaging in scenario-based training offered by organizations like the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and Wilderness Medical Associates to practice handling cardiac emergencies in simulated wilderness environments.
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

Shop First Aid Supplies

Build First Aid is not only a source of knowledge but also an online store offering affordable first aid supplies for everyone. Shop now and help us keep programs like this blog alive!