Health & Medicine

Being aware of the signs of a heart attack can save a life

Dr. Dennis Havens
Dr. Dennis Havens

More than 1 million Americans have heart attacks each year, and 40 percent of those people die from the consequences of the attack.

Many of these deaths occur early in the course of the attack. Ventricular fibrillation, a lethal heart rhythm, is the most common cause of early death after a heart attack. This rhythm can be treated and often prevented with standard emergency care available in most hospitals. Patients who make it to the hospital alive have better than a 90 percent chance of survival.

Given these facts it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack as well as the recommended lifesaving actions to take.

Heart attacks can be sudden and intense, or heart attacks can start slowly. At first, the symptoms may come and go before increasing in severity. Frequently, patients are not sure what is happening. Symptoms are not specific and can vary from person to person.

Chest discomfort, often described as pressure or a squeezing sensation, is common.

Others experience pain, either mild or intense. Pain moving to the jaw, the neck or the arms also is common. Occasionally the pain is in the upper abdomen and associated with nausea and vomiting. Many patients describe this sensation as heartburn or indigestion and may blame these symptoms on the flu.

Dizziness, passing out and breaking out in a cold sweat also are common presentations of a heart attack. Sometimes, merely feeling bad or having a feeling of impending doom can mark the onset of a heart attack. The most important point to remember is that if symptoms suggestive of a heart attack occur seek prompt medical attention.

Don’t ignore the symptoms or feel embarrassed to call for help. Don’t drive yourself to the hospital. Call 9-1-1 for emergency medical care. Emergency medical personnel have the training, the experience and the equipment to treat fatal heart rhythms that often occur early in the course of a heart attack.

Hospitals train their staff to respond to possible heart attack patients in a rapid manner.

Procedures to open blocked arteries and save dying heart muscle are everyday occurrences in most hospitals.

Early diagnosis and treatment saves lives. Delay in treatment can be fatal or can lead to decreased ability of the heart to pump or extensive heart muscle damage. Every second counts. If you have any of the previously listed symptoms, call 9-1-1. Fast action may save your life.

Dr. Dennis Havens is a cardiothoracic surgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group Cardiothoracic Surgery and practices at Baptist Health Lexington.