Nearly 715,000 Americans have a heart attack every year, killing 15% of sufferers. Of those deaths, nearly half occur before the patient even reaches the hospital. "Many deaths can be prevented by acting quickly and getting treatment right away," says Dr. Robert Frankel, Director of Interventional Cardiology.
A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is cut off, causing cells in the heart muscle to die due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart, so it's crucial to be aware of the signs of a heart attack.
"People will commonly feel pressure or heaviness in their chest, which can travel to their shoulder, left arm or neck," says Dr. Frankel. Other signs include discomfort in the back, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, or a cold sweat.
What should you do if you experience these warning signs and you’re by yourself? Take them seriously.
- Call 9-1-1. It is important that emergency medical services (EMS) take you to a heart center immediately. The goal is to get the artery open within 90 minutes of the onset of symptoms.
- While waiting for EMS to arrive chew and swallow aspirin. (You may be on medication that could interact with aspirin, so discuss your plan with your primary care physician.)
- Have a 'Go Bag' with medications and contact information readily available for emergency personnel.
Unfortunately, the average person waits three hours before seeking help for heart attack symptoms because they underestimate the signs or think the symptoms will pass.
"Sometimes, the symptoms aren't clear. For example, a patient will experience pain in the upper abdomen and stay home thinking it's a stomach ache," explains Dr. Frankel. And some people don't call for help immediately because they’re embarrassed. "They don't want to make a scene or have it be a false alarm, but they shouldn't let that get in the way of seeking help immediately when symptoms last more than a few minutes. Call 9-1-1, then notify a relative or friend that you may be going to the hospital."
We know that having a heart attack – even the thought of having one – is a frightening scenario. But, you can improve your likelihood of surviving simply by being prepared and taking your symptoms seriously. Once you arrive at Maimonides, we’ll do what we do best – we’re ranked in the top 2% in the entire nation for heart attack outcomes. Your job is to make sure you get here.
Dr. Robert Frankel
Director, Interventional Cardiology
Dr. Robert Frankel has over 20 years experience in the specialty of interventional cardiology. He has published numerous articles in leading journals and is the Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at SUNY Health Science Center of Brooklyn.
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