Modern medicine has developed tests and procedures to detect and treat cardiovascular disease. These treatments can help prevent or minimize the damage of a second heart attack by using procedures like stent implantation to open blocked arteries.
Surviving a first heart attack, however, is the key.
It’s important to learn these signs of a heart attack; knowing them could save your life if you seek medical attention immediately.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately.
• Feeling an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. This symptom is the most common. It might last more than a few minutes, or it might go away and then come back.
• Feeling 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 can occur with or without exertion or chest discomfort. This is more common in women than in men.
• Feeling lightheaded
• Breaking into a cold sweat
• Feeling pain or discomfort in your stomach, with nausea and vomiting.
Remember that in a cardiac emergency minutes matter. Calling 911 for an ambulance will bring the care that you need much more quickly than driving to a hospital. The emergency medical services team has the training and equipment to revive someone whose heart has stopped.
After you arrive at an emergency room, a physician will take several steps to diagnose a heart attack. These include:
• Taking a complete medical history
• Performing a physical examination
• Ordering and reviewing an electrocardiogram. An EKG (or ECG) measures and charts the heart’s electrical activity. By viewing the tracing, a physician can discover any abnormalities that might indicate damage to the heart.
• In some cases, reading the results of a blood test, which reveals abnormal levels of certain enzymes in the blood.
Before a heart attack, you might notice these symptoms of cardiovascular problems after normal physical activity:
• Undue fatigue
• Feeling that your heart is beating too fast or skipping a beat, known as palpitations
• Difficult or labored breathing, known as dyspnea
• Anginal pain (Chest pain), which can be stable or unstable
Stable angina is chest discomfort associated with exercise or physical or emotional stress. Rest or nitroglycerin or both may relieve this.
Unstable angina is unexpected and more severe, prolonged chest pain while at rest. Treat this as an emergency, as it is an acute coronary syndrome. This pain results from reduced blood flow to the heart, which is caused by the narrowing of the coronary arteries in atherosclerosis.
If you have these symptoms, you need to have your heart health checked. Northern Nevada Medical Center has experienced physicians as well as a sophisticated Cardiovascular Catheterization Laboratory with a staff trained and equipped to detect and treat heart problems.
Take care of yourself and take care of your heart. Enjoy a diet of reduced fat and calories. Exercise and maintain a good blood pressure. If you have diabetes, make sure you manage it properly, and if you smoke, seek help to stop.
If you feel you may be at risk for heart disease, check out NNMC’s on-line heart risk assessment at http://healthinfo.northernnvmed.com/Conditions/Heart/Tools/Assessments.
If you are interested in learning more about heart attack signs and symptoms, I am hosting a free seminar on Feb. 16, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Northern Nevada Medical Center. The seminar will include a heart-healthy dinner as well as a tour of NNMC’s Cardio Cath Lab. Call 356-NNMC to sign up for this free seminar.
Finally, to repeat: Minutes matter. Seek help for a heart attack without delay.
Ray Cardenas is the coordinator of the Northern Nevada Medical Center Cardiovascular Catheterization Laboratory. Cardenas earned is bachelor’s from the University of Nevada, Reno, and is a Registered Cardiac Invasive Specialist with the Society of Invasive Cardiovascular Professionals.