Heart Attacks - Act in Time
February 18, 2008
By Pam Schroeder, RN of Health Education
At a news conference in September 2007, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the American Heart Association issued a joint call to action urging physicians to educate their patients about heart attack warning signs—and the importance of calling 911 immediately. This call to action also launched a major new heart attack education campaign called Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs.
NHLBI Director Claude Lenfant, M.D., and American Heart Association President David Faxon, M.D., noted that despite life saving advances in the treatment of heart attack, only a small percentage of patients are getting to the hospital early enough to reap the benefits of that therapy.
"Our goal is to save lives by increasing the woefully low number of heart attack patients who are treated within the first hour of experiencing symptoms," said Dr. Lenfant. "It is during that crucial 60-minute window that clot-busting medication and other treatments are most effective. Alarmingly, only one in five patients gets to the hospital emergency department soon enough to benefit from these treatments." "Most potential heart attack victims wait at least two--- four hours before seeking medical help and some wait a day or more," Lenfant added.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. This narrowing often leads to heart attack and is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Most of us think a heart attack will happen like it does in the movies—a dramatic event where a man, of course, suddenly clutches his chest in agony and falls over. However, when it comes to having a heart attack, expectations don’t always match reality. Some heart attacks start slowly, as a mild pain or discomfort. It is important to remember that even if you are in doubt you must check it out.
Here are the main signs of a heart attack in both men and women:
•Chest discomfort, usually in the center of the chest, that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
•Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
•Shortness of breath.
•Other symptoms, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light headedness.
People having a heart attack tend to wait too long to seek medical help because they are afraid of embarrassment over a false alarm or of upsetting their family. Women are particularly likely to delay seeking help. This is a delay that can be deadly or cause heart damage that will impair their quality of life forever.
Call 911 within five minutes of the start of symptoms. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get life saving treatment. Emergency medical personnel can begin treatment when they arrive—up to an hour sooner than someone who arrives at the hospital by car. Also, heart attack patients who arrive by ambulance tend to receive faster treatment on their arrival at the hospital.
You can learn more about heart attack survival by contacting the American Heart Association at americanheart.org. or by calling the Health Education Department at (909) 335-4131.