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Heart Attack: What to Do

old man having a Heart Attack

Dr. Chauncey Crandall, Medical Director of Interventional Cardiology at Good Samaritan Medical Center, explains what one should do in the event of a heart attack.

Unlike the dramatic Hollywood Heart Attack, many heart attacks start slowly. Often, a person doesn’t even realize what is happening. Symptoms also vary, so even someone who has already had a heart attack may experience different symptoms.

Here are the things that can indicate a heart attack:

  • Pain, pressure, or constriction in the chest
  • Discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, arm, back, neck, or jaw
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion, heartburn, or a choking feeling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Vague feeling of illness
  • Anxiety or a feeling of doom
  • Dizziness, weakness, or lightheadedness
  • Sudden, overwhelming fatigue

As you can see, that’s a lot of symptoms. Many are indistinct, and could easily indicate another condition such as indigestion, muscle strain, the onset of flu, or an adverse reaction to medication.

However, if you are over 50 and have risk factors for heart disease — such as being a smoker, diabetic, overweight, or have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a family history of heart problems — you must take the symptoms seriously.

Of course, you can have a heart attack even if you don’t have risk factors and are not over 50. In my own case, I had a blocked artery at age 48. When the pain started in my shoulder, I thought I had strained a muscle. The pain was uncomfortable but not severe, so I did nothing about it.

But the next day it was much worse. Still, it took me 24 hours to put together what was happening and get treatment. In hindsight, I should have gotten checked out the first day.If you have any of the risk factors for heart disease and develop any combination of those symptoms, you have to call 911 immediately.

Even if you don’t have the risk factors, spending hours wondering if the discomfort will go away is a waste of precious time — and denial of what is happening can kill you.

Remember, the clock starts ticking when the symptoms start, not when they become unbearable. The first hour is often referred to as the “Golden Hour” because there is still time to revive the oxygen-starved heart. The sooner blood flow is restored, the less damage is done.

Do not drive yourself or have someone else drive you to the hospital. Cardiac arrest is a possibility when you are having a heart attack. If that happens, you will need an electronic defribrillator to restart the heart. Paramedics will have a defibrillator on hand. That way you can receive life-saving treatment at home or on the way to the hospital, if necessary.

While you are waiting for the ambulance to come, chew two regular tablets of aspirin. This will start working to thin the blood clot or slow the buildup. Do not take aspirin if you are allergic to it.If you are on any medication, set it out for emergency personnel to see. If you take nitroglycerin, take it as directed. Do not take someone else’s nitroglycerin.

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