Published on March 01, 2016

Don’t ignore heart attack symptoms

Emergency signWhat are the two most important things you should know about a heart attack?

  1. You need emergency help if you think you’re having one.
  2. You need that help right away.

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked, often by a clot. Restoring that blood flow quickly is key to preventing permanent damage to the heart and to surviving.

“There’s no time to spare when you’re having a heart attack,” says Oren L. Friedman, MD, FACC, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Nazareth Hospital.

Emergency action

In the Chest Pain Center at Nazareth Hospital, doctors are available day or night to rapidly diagnose people who may be having a heart attack.

“Many things can cause chest pain,” Dr. Friedman says. “If tests confirm it’s a heart attack, we immediately send someone to the catheterization lab for a procedure called emergency angioplasty.”

Angioplasty involves a thin tube called a catheter with a balloon on the end. The catheter is inserted into an artery—either in the groin or arm—and threaded to the heart blockage. Once there, the balloon is inflated. This compresses the blockage against the wall of the artery and makes it easier for blood to flow again.

A metal stent that helps keep the artery open may be inserted at the same time. All of this is done as quickly as possible.

“Once someone arrives at the Chest Pain Center and we know for sure the person is having a heart attack, the goal is to perform angioplasty and open the blocked artery within 90 minutes,” Thomas Metkus, MD, FACC, FAHA, Medical Director of the Chest Pain Center at Nazareth, says. “We often do it in less time than that—within an hour.”

Make the call

Many people wait to call 911 when they’re having symptoms of a heart attack. They may do so out of fear—I don’t want it to be a heart attack. Or doubt—It’s probably just indigestion, and I’ll look foolish if it’s a false alarm.

But waiting is dangerous. Minutes matter when it comes to treating a heart attack. And even if your symptoms turn out to be something other than a problem with your heart, that’s OK.

“Let us decide if you’re having a heart attack,” Dr. Metkus says. “That’s our job, and we’re glad to do it.”

An ambulance is the best and safest way to get to the hospital. Emergency medical services personnel can check how you’re doing and start treatments and tests right away. They can also alert the Chest Pain Center that you’re on the way.

So call 911 if you have symptoms of a heart attack, which include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center or left side of your chest. It lasts for a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both of your arms; your back; or your neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat or feeling sick to your stomach or lightheaded.

“Heart attacks are a life and death situation,” Dr. Friedman says. “We take them seriously, and so should you. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need.”