The pressure in your chest comes and goes. But there’s something different. You are short of breath, breaking out in a sweat, and feel nauseated.
That’s it. Call 911.
Do not wait for waves of pain to pass. Do not be concerned about making a mountain out of a mole hill. Minutes count when you are trying to save the muscle that is your heart.
When the symptoms start, Dr. Darryl Dias wants you immediately in the hands of trained EMT’s. Ambulance crews can administer an EKG, make a diagnosis, and start treatment without delay, he said.
“We are very concerned about shortness of breath, sweating, pressure in the chest or back,” said Dias, St. Elizabeth Healthcare board-certified cardiac specialist. These are signs of an obstruction in the heart or arteries. “A lot of patients have mild symptoms for days, or even a week. Before a big heart attack, they may have some symptoms that go away and return,” he said.
Not every patient has the same symptoms when his or her heart is pushed to the limit.
It may be pain in the jaw or arm. “Women especially are known to have different kind of symptoms than men. Fatigue and shortness of breath can be big symptoms of a blockage in the arteries,” Dias said.
Dias hopes, no matter your age or health, you will:
- Talk to your doctor about the warning signs
- Learn your family’s cardiac history
- Be aware of other risk factors.
- Get to the hospital when symptoms begin
“Don’t drive yourself or have someone drive you. Call 911,” said Dias.
Emergency medical technicians can “start the ball rolling,” he said. Ambulance crews can make an early diagnosis, take an EKG and transmit it to the hospital, and begin treatment. If need be, they can resuscitate the patient. More patients survive in the care of professionals, he added.
“You can go from a heart attack to cardiac arrest and lose consciousness. That’s why we don’t want people driving or having family driving them to the hospital,” Dias said.
“‘Time is muscle,’ which means the earlier we open the artery, the more muscle is saved,” he explained.
During a heart attack little or no blood goes to the heart. In that circumstance, the heart muscle is damaged. If blood flow is restored too late, the damage to the heart muscle may be irreversible.
There is hope
Early detection and treatment to open the artery and re-establish blood flow to the heart relieves the pain and helps prevent damage to the heart muscle.
Patients may be reluctant to call 911 because “they don’t believe it is a heart attack. They think the symptoms are not severe enough. They think its heartburn and will go away by itself,” he said. Some patients don’t want to worry family members or make a fuss.
“We, as cardiologists, have been going out into communities and explaining what is a heart attack and why patients need to come (to the hospital) early.” The first line of defense is family care doctors who explain to patients and families the risk factors, symptoms and treatments.