Is it a heart attack?
More than a million Americans have heart attacks each year. Nearly half of them die.1 Why does this happen? In many cases, it's because people don't take action quickly enough – or at all.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. If blood flow isn't restored quickly to that part of the heart muscle, it lacks nutrition and dies. That's why it's so important to seek medical help right away.1
If you or someone you're with may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 without delay. This needs to be an ambulance trip to the hospital, not a joy ride. If you get caught driving in traffic, you can lose valuable minutes. To help you visualize the urgency of the situation, think of a heart attack as a gunshot to the heart. If symptoms stop within five minutes or come and go, don't just thank your lucky stars. Call your doctor and describe what happened. A blood vessel could be on its way toward blockage.1
Cardiologists call the 60 minutes after a heart attack the "golden hour." That's because this is the narrow window of time when treatment can open arteries and prevent permanent heart damage. These heart specialists have two methods for doing this. They can use a clot-dissolving drug. Or, they can perform a procedure to open blocked heart arteries (angioplasty).2
If treatment is so effective, why don't people get themselves promptly to the hospital where they belong? Maybe it's because many have a Hollywood image of a heart attack: the clutching of the chest, the unbearable pain, the dramatic collapse onto the floor.
But a heart attack can have several guises. Symptoms can begin quickly or slowly. They can be severe or mild. They may come and go. They can even vary from one time to the next.3 And some people may have no clear symptoms at all. These are called "silent heart attacks." They are more common in people with diabetes.4
Chest discomfort or pain may be a hallmark of heart attack. But it can feel more like pressure than pain. It may be a squeezing or heaviness, making it difficult to catch your breath. Or, you may have a feeling of fullness or indigestion, resembling heartburn.1.4
You may have other warning signs of a heart attack, including:
So if this happen to you or someone you know, will you take the needed action? Or will you be afraid you're being alarmist and worry that the symptoms were nothing but a case of indigestion? If so, remember this: You can't die of embarrassment. But a heart attack can most definitely kill you.
After a heart attack, doctors often prescribe medications to prevent a second one. These work in various ways. For example, they might prevent blood clots, lower cholesterol, or lower blood pressure. 4 Don't stop taking these without your doctor's okay. If you run into any problems or have any questions, I'm here to help guide you.
1. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "What Is a Heart Attack?" http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_WhatIs.html
2. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "Heart Attack: Key Points." http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_Summary.html
3. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "Heart Attack Warning Signs." http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/actintime/haws/haws.htm
4. WebMD: "Heart Attacks and Heart Disease." http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart_disease_heart_attacks