You start feeling pain in the center of your chest that doesn't go
away. You wonder if you are having a heart attack--should you wait a bit
to see if your pain goes away, call your doctor, or drive yourself to
the emergency room? "If you suspect you're having a heart attack,
the best thing to do is call 911 right away," says
Humboldt Medical Specialists cardiologist
Andrew Michaels, MD, who is board-certified in internal medicine, interventional cardiology
and cardiovascular disease. "Not only can fast action be the difference
between life and death when it comes to a heart attack, but a recent study
also shows that the faster treatment is administered, the less damage
will be done to the heart."
The study from
Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Interventions analyzed data from three groups of heart attack patients, based on the
time of treatment after they first experienced symptoms--less than two
hours, between two and four hours, and more than four hours. The treatment
administered to heart attack patients is called percutaneous coronary
intervention, and can involve the use of stents or balloon angioplasty
to widen a narrowed artery and restore blood flow.
The patients in the middle group, who received treatment between two to
four hours after first feeling symptoms, had worse heart health outcomes
after recovering from the heart attack compared to patients with earlier
treatment. Not only was their blood flow not fully restored to the heart,
but they also had a greater risk of death within three years of the heart
attack than the people who were treated in less than two hours.
Ideally, "door-to-balloon time"--the period between a patient's
arrival at the hospital and when the patient receives an intervention
such as balloon angioplasty--should be no more than 90 minutes, per the
American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology.
That means to get treatment quickly, people who are experiencing a heart
attack should get to the hospital as soon as possible, Dr. Michaels advises.
"It's important to know the symptoms of a heart attack, so you
can recognize it and take action by calling for emergency help--with 911,
you'll be under the watch of paramedics in an ambulance, which will
get you to the hospital the fastest and will be safer than driving yourself,"
says Dr. Michaels.
Heart attack symptoms to watch for, according to the AHA and Dr. Michaels,
who served as prior Chairman of the AHA Committee on Acute Cardiac Care:
- A heavy pressure, pain or squeezing feeling in the chest
- Pain in the arms (one or both), neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling lightheaded
- A cold sweat
"Women may experience symptoms differently than men--for instance,
women may not have the chest pain, but feel pain elsewhere in the upper
body along with dizziness, fatigue and trouble breathing," Dr. Michaels
says. "If there's any question, it's best to be on the safe
side and get help. You can also be proactive with your heart health to
lower your risk of a heart attack--eat well, exercise and avoid smoking,
and if you have any signs of heart disease already, follow the prescribed
course of treatment."