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Is it a heart attack? Don’t dismiss warning signs

Hollywood may have done a disservice to Americans’ heart health. After watching countless movie scenes in which a man having a heart attack clutches his chest and falls to the ground, you may believe that’s what having a heart attack looks like. And that, in turn, could lead you to dismiss actual symptoms of a heart attack.

Learn to recognize warning signs and call 911 quickly if you or someone you’re with experiences them. It could help save a life — maybe yours! — or make the difference between a poor outcome and a good one.

Although heart attacks can be sudden and intense as in the movies, it’s more common for a heart attack to start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. The most common warning sign, for both men and women, is chest pain or discomfort. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. It usually lasts more than a few minutes, or may go away and come back.

Know these warning signs of a heart attack

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest pain)
  • A cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Although the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Signs of a heart attack can be subtle and confusing. Some people have only one symptom, others have more. If you think there’s any chance you or someone you’re with may be having a heart attack, it’s best to call 911 right away. If you’re not sure whether it’s a heart attack or something else, call 911 anyway. It’s far better to be told, “It’s probably just indigestion from that pizza you had for dinner” than to experience a heart attack and delay treatment. A heart attack damages the muscle in the heart, and the longer treatment is delayed, the more damage occurs.

Helping you keep the beat

If you have a heart attack, you can be glad that the cardiology experts at Hennepin County Medical Center are nearby to help. The Director of the Hennepin Heart Center and cardiologist, Woubeshet Ayenew, MD says, “The excellent outcomes and coordinated care here at Hennepin come about due to our patient- centered approach and our expertise in cardiac care, from comprehensive heart attack care and heart disease prevention, to cardiac rehabilitation and long-term heart disease management.”

Cardiac arrest vs. heart attack: What’s the difference?

People sometimes use the terms “sudden cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” interchangeably, but doing so is a mistake. The two conditions are actually quite different, though they are sometimes linked. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, and this is sometimes brought on by a heart attack. However, most heart attacks do not lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

This chart summarizes some major differences.

Cardiac arrestHeart attack
Cause An electrical problem — an irregular rhythm causes the heart to stop pumping. A circulation problem — blood flow to a section of the heart is blocked by a clogged artery.
What happensThe person stops normal breathing and becomes unresponsive within seconds. Death occurs within minutes unless he or she receives medical help.Symptoms may be immediate but more often start slowly and may persist for hours, days or weeks. More damage occurs the longer treatment is delayed.
What to doCall 911, administer CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is available.Call 911.

Hennepin County — It’s one of the top five places in the nation to stay alive after a cardiac arrest

It's easy to see how the planets need to be in perfect alignment to save someone's life. That's probably why survival rates tend to be abysmally low (estimated at less than 10 percent in the United States). But we know there are communities like Seattle/King County, Raleigh/Wake County, and Minneapolis/Hennepin County where survival for witnessed cardiac arrest (with an initial shockable rhythm) can be as high as 50% or even higher,” says Tom Bouthillet in a recent LinkedIn post. Bouthillet is a fire captain, paramedic, columnist and editor-in-chief of a blog,

Why such a big difference? Because HCMC’s team of experts in the field, the EMTs and paramedics, are just as important to a patient’s survival as the team at the hospital. Hennepin takes part in the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival, (CARES) a system that keeps track of the survival rates of the cardiac arrest patients they treat in the field. This allows them to review their work and find ways to improve patient outcomes. Some of the changes Hennepin made because of this system include:

  • Adequate resources are sent to the scene including a supervisor
  • Emergency dispatchers are trained to deliver telephone-assisted CPR instructions to bystanders
  • Resuscitations are conducted in a consistent and highly choreographed manner (think Formula 1 Pit Crew)
  • Team performance is optimized using simulation training
  • Checklists are used to ensure protocols are implemented correctly
  • Post-event analysis is conducted, crews are debriefed, and non-punitive feedback is provided
  • They have excellent working relationships with hospitals which helps ensure seamless transitions and expert post-resuscitation care
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This publication does not constitute professional medical advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. If you have medical questions, consult your medical professional. Images may be from one or more of these sources: ©Thinkstock, ©iStock, ©Fotolia. ©2015 BlueSpire Strategic Marketing |
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