Early Heart Attack Care

Early Heart Attack Care

By William T. Gray, DO

Every year more than 460,000 Americans die from heart attack, with approximately half of these individuals dying before they get to a hospital. While a heart attack can be a frightening experience, knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and what steps to take can ensure the individual receives timely, life-saving medical care.

What is a Heart Attack? A heart attack occurs when a clot in the heart’s artery blocks the flow of blood to the heart, resulting in the death of heart tissue. The more time that passes before receiving treatment, the greater the damage to the heart. This damage is permanent and cannot be reversed.

Who is at Risk? The following risk factors apply to both men and women:

A previous heart attack or procedure to open up the coronary arteries.

Age, for men 45 and older, women 50 on up.

Family history of early heart disease, especially a father or brother diagnosed before age 55 or mother or sister diagnosed before age 65.

Illnesses or conditions such as diabetes mellitus, high blood cholesterol or high blood pressure. Cigarette smokers, those overweight or physically inactive are at risk.

While some heart attacks can be similar to the sudden and intense “Hollywood heart attack”, most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Often people aren’t sure what is wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are some key warning signs that a heart attack is happening:

Chest discomfort in the middle of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. This may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas which can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Shortness of breath which may occur with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

If you or someone you know has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other symptoms listed above, call 911 immediately.