• SecondsCount Heart Attack Survival Guide


    When Heart Attack Symptoms Strike

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    Dr. Morton J. Kern, Long Beach VA Hospital, University of California Irvine, explains how to survive a heart attack.

    When heart attack symptoms strike, any delay in seeking treatment can result in heart muscle damage and/or death. Remember, not all heart attacks cause chest pain; sometimes symptoms can be subtler, such as upper body discomfort or sudden nausea or fatigue.

    It is important to dial 911. Do not drive yourself to a hospital. Don’t have someone else drive you. Heart attacks can suddenly cause irregular heartbeats that may cause your heart to stop. Emergency medical personnnel are prepared to treat these arrhythmias. Often all it takes is an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – a simple painless test – to find out if you’re having a heart attack. You can get one in the ambulance on your way to the hospital, thereby beginning heart attack diagnosis and treatment before you even reach the hospital. It’s a very effective way to reduce the time it takes to get you the treatment you need. While you wait for the ambulance to arrive, you may want to chew one uncoated aspirin to reduce your body’s ability to form blood clots.


    At the Hospital

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    Video provided courtesy of Medtronic.
    If you arrive at the emergency room while having a heart attack, you may be given clot-busting drugs, especially if you arrive at a hospital that is not equipped to perform balloon angioplasty. Alternatively, if you go to a hospital with a catheterization lab you will be taken directly to the cath lab where balloon angioplasty and stenting can be performed. Some patients with heart attacks are best treated with emergency bypass surgery. Bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty and stenting restore blood flow through the artery and to the heart muscle.

    Angioplasty is a procedure performed by an interventional cardiologist to reopen a clogged or blocked artery for blood flow. During the procedure, a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) is inserted through a puncture site in the skin and threaded through the artery to the site of a blockage. Very thin wires are then advanced beyond the blockage and a small balloon is opened to push the blockage out of the way to restore blood flow. A stent – a metal, mesh tube – may be placed in the artery during the procedure to permanently prop the artery open. Angioplasty is successful in the treatment of 95 to 98 of every 100 patients. If you are having a heart attack and are able to receive angioplasty soon enough, it can stop the heart attack and possibly save your life.

    The goal in heart attack treatment is to restore the blood flow to your heart in less than 90 minutes from arrival at the hospital. However, even after 90 minutes, angioplasty or bypass surgery may still help prevent additional damage to the heart muscle.

    When you do get help, speak up! Tell others “I may be having a heart attack!” or ask, “Could this be a heart attack?” Be an advocate for your own health. Ask questions and be very clear in your communication with your doctor and other healthcare professionals. Tell your doctor about all of your symptoms, even if they seem strange or you feel embarrassed. The more information your doctor has, the easier it will be to put the puzzle pieces together.

    You can print a copy of the SecondsCount Heart Attack Survival Action Plan and Warning Signs here.