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Health Watch/Bonny Cotter, RN

Heart attacks: Don’t wait to seek help

June 7, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

Would you know if you were having a heart attack? Would you believe someone else if they told you that you were having one? Would you seek medical attention?

The heart is a muscle and is basically the pump that pushes blood through your entire body. Your heart has its own blood supply, called the coronary arteries. These arteries can develop atherosclerosis, where a buildup of fat and cholesterol form plaques and cut off blood supply to the heart muscle. When a plaque in a coronary artery breaks, a blood clot forms around it and blocks the blood flow to the heart muscle. This causes a heart attack or myocardial infarction.

Warning signs of heart attack include:

Chest discomfort - in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes. This may go away and come back and can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body - pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, stomach.

Shortness of breath - with or without chest discomfort

Other signs - cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness (women are more likely to experience these other symptoms without chest pressure).

Some people may be able to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack, but most victims ignore these signs and fail to seek prompt medical attention. According to the American Heart Association, the average heart attack victim waits more than two hours before seeking medical help.

Most people will deny that they are having a heart attack. It is very common to hear a victim say, "It must be something I ate" or they think that if they lie down the symptoms will pass. Fear also prevents people from getting help. Early treatment is crucial, as there are therapies that can stop a heart attack in progress and minimize heart muscle damage when administered early after the onset of symptoms.

One treatment used for heart attack is clot-busting (thrombolytic) therapy, which works by dissolving the clots that form in coronary arteries. There is a narrow window of opportunity for administering this drug, as damage to the heart muscle may become permanent if left untreated. The sooner it can be given, the greater the chance of survival and recovery for the heart attack victim.

In certain cases, patients can benefit from going directly to a cardiac cath lab, where the blocked heart vessel is opened up by a procedure called angioplasty. A stent may also be placed in the artery to keep it open.

Please don't wait and think they symptoms will go away. Some people are afraid of becoming embarrassed if their symptoms are not really heart-related.

The question to ask then is, "What if they are?"

Heart attacks happen about every 34 seconds and are the leading cause of death in the United States. Anyone suspecting that he or she is having a heart attack should immediately call 911 for emergency assistance.

It is critical to get to the hospital as soon as possible after symptoms start.

Editor's note: Bonny Cotter, RN, is education coordinator with Baraga County Memorial Hospital.



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