A Heart Attack Is No Time to Hesitate. Experts stress knowing warning signs, acting quickly
Would you know it if you were having a heart attack? If you’re like many people, you may not recognize the symptoms or you may attribute them to something else.
During a heart attack, you may experience pain or discomfort in your chest. Often, but not always, that discomfort feels like pressure, tightness or squeezing. Other symptoms include nausea, shortness of breath, sweating and discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw or arms.
These heart attack symptoms can be different for women than men, according to cardiologist Karen Stark, MD, medical director of Scottsdale Healthcare’s Women’s Heart Health program.
Women having a heart attack often don’t have the classic crushing chest pain that most people associate with a heart attack,” says Dr. Stark, noting that if women do have chest pain, they may notice it while they’re at rest. By comparison, men having a heart attack typically will experience chest pain when they’re active or exercising.
Additionally, women are more likely to have more subtle heart attack symptoms, adds Dr. Stark, such as fatigue, shortness of breath and jaw pain.
Women need to be aware that heart disease is the greatest risk for their health. It is the #1 killer of women. The risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is exponentially higher than the risk of dying from breast cancer and twice as high as the risk of dying from all other cancers combined,” says Dr. Stark.
Don’t be fooled. Act fast.
The important thing to remember is that heart attack symptoms can be tricky. You may have one or several symptoms, and they may come and go. But they should not be ignored.
Your heart is a muscle, and the longer you wait, the more muscle damage a heart attack can cause,” notes Scottsdale Healthcare cardiologist Lawrence Cook, MD.
If you experience chest pain or any heart attack symptom, call 9-1-1 immediately. Emergency medical personnel are trained to begin treatment for heart attacks when they arrive.
At Scottsdale Healthcare, our close partnerships with the local fire departments and paramedics enable them to do an EKG in the field, call the emergency room at one of our three hospitals—Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center, Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center and Scottsdale Healthcare Thompson Peak Hospital—and speak to a physician to coordinate care even before the patient arrives.
This strong collaboration is a key factor in Scottsdale Healthcare’s hospitals being accredited as Chest Pain Centers by the Society of Chest Pain Centers. The accreditation represents a dedication to rapid diagnosis and treatment, and collaboration with first responders, all of which are vital to interrupting the deadly progression of a heart attack.
Latest technology can make a difference
Scottsdale Healthcare also is home to the latest technology that can help patients with heart disease and potentially prevent future heart attacks.
For example, Scottsdale Healthcare was first in the region and is one of only 23 hospitals in the U.S. with the LipiScan Coronary Imaging System. This technology detects lipid-core-containing plaque, which cannot be detected by commonly used tests such as treadmill exams and coronary angiograms. Lipid-core-containing plaque is thought to be “vulnerable plaque” or fatty plaque that ruptures, forming dangerous blood clots. Experts suspect that vulnerable plaque causes most sudden cardiac deaths, strokes and non-fatal heart attacks.
The ability to detect vulnerable plaque may go a long way in providing information to help prevent heart attacks in the future,” says David Rizik, MD, Scottsdale Healthcare medical director of invasive cardiology.
Taking your health to heart
Of course, the best way to deal with heart disease and potential heart attacks is to prevent them. That means finding out if your heart is healthy and working to keep it that way.
Scottsdale Healthcare offers personalized heart health evaluations with a cardiac nurse practitioner. The one-on-one evaluations take 45 minutes and include a check of the fasting lipid profile, glucose and blood pressure. The waist circumference is measured and the body mass index is calculated. Importantly, the cardiac nurse practitioner also assesses your 10-year risk of having a heart attack. Information on reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke also is provided.