One example is chest pain. Many people ignore indigestion-like pain that gets worse with exertion because they think it is heartburn. It is important to be aware that this type of pain can signal a heart attack in progress, particularly if the pain is accompanied by sweating or shortness of breath.
Common heart attack symptoms include:
• Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. This symptom is the most common in men and in women. It might last more than a few minutes, or it might go away and then come back.
• Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, in your back, or in your neck or jaw or both. Women are more likely than men to feel back pain.
• Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. This is more common in women than in men.
• Feeling lightheaded
• A cold sweat
Feeling pain or discomfort in your stomach, with nausea and vomiting.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911. Tell the emergency medical services personnel to take you to the nearest ER with an accredited chest pain center. Northern Nevada Medical Center’s Chest Pain Center, for example, is accredited by the Society of Chest Pain Centers. Accredited chest pain centers have demonstrated established standard diagnostic and treatment programs that enable physicians to evaluate patients with chest pain and other heart attack symptoms more efficiently and effectively.
If the emergency physician detects a blocked artery, a skilled staff able to detect and treat heart problems would be standing by in the cardiovascular lab, ready to restore the flow in the blocked blood vessel.
Another example is changes in walking, talking, vision, hearing or touch. These symptoms can signal a “brain attack” more commonly known as stroke.
An easy way to identify stroke symptoms is to use the word FAST.
F = Face: changes to the head and eyes, including trouble seeing in one or both eyes or having double vision; numbness or weakness of one side of the face; or a noticeable droop of the one side of the mouth or face; confusion and trouble speaking or understanding; severe headache that comes on suddenly and with no known cause.
A = Arms/legs: Trouble walking, losing balance, becoming dizzy or losing coordination of the arms or legs on one side of the body; weakness or numbness of the arms or legs.
S = Speech that is slurred, garbled, or unintelligible speech or the inability to talk.
T = Time, or the time you last saw the person with no symptoms.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately, similar as your would with chest pain. Stroke response teams such as the one at Northern Nevada Medical Center consist of experienced neurologists and other health care professionals whose highest priority is treating stroke. Stroke response team members have received training to assess the patient, determine whether the patient has had a stroke and decide on the appropriate treatment.
With heart attack and stroke, minutes truly do matter, because when blood flow is blocked to the heart or the brain, cells begin to die. It’s important that you go to an ER that you can reach quickly and that is staffed and equipped to treat you swiftly.
Be prepared. Investigate the emergency room nearest you and look for these vital services. If you have a true medical emergency, you can feel more confident knowing that high-quality care is nearby.
Donald Claus, RN, BSN, CEN is the emergency department director at NNMC. He earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing from California State University, Bakersfield, and is nationally certified as an emergency nurse.