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more articles by Stefek, Paul , MD  |  author's bio

Heart Attack: The Most Important Message

Heart Attack: The Most Important Message

By Paul Stefek, MD

 

At the Cayuga Heart Institute we have the local capability to intervene during an acute heart attack to remove the blood clot, open the artery, and restore blood flow to the heart. However, this is only part of the equation in saving the lives of heart-attack patients. The other critical factor is helping people understand their own esponsibilities in seeking medical care as quickly as possible in order to save their heart muscle and their lives.

 

What is the most important message to get out to people?

 

The most important message is that your actions at the time heart-attack symptoms begin are absolutely critical. The sooner heart-attack patients put themselves in the hands of a cardiac-care team, the better their outcomes.

 

What happens when people wait, rather than act?

 

With the passage of time the ongoing lack of oxygen to the heart muscle permanently damages it and the size of the clot blocking the artery gets bigger. This increases the risk of permanent heart damage, disability, and death, and makes it more difficult to perform PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention). By comparison, the ability to open an artery during the early stages of a heart attack is much easier and patient recovery is much more complete because more heart muscle function has been preserved.

 

What should I know about heart–attack symptoms?

 

1) Symptoms can occur in the center of the chest from the bottom of the ribs to the neck, and may also involve the throat, arms, jaw, and back.

2) The sensation can feel like pressure, burning (similar to indigestion), an ache, or a feeling of tightness.

3) Patients often describe these symptoms as discomfort, rather than severe pain.

4) The symptoms don’t go away, they are constant.

5) Symptoms may be accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and sweating.

 

Anyone with any combination of these symptoms needs medical assessment. If, in the days or weeks beforehand, you’ve had these symptoms with exertion in a milder form but they subsided with rest, this may be the warning signs for a heart attack. The key is to pay attention to symptoms and realize that something is wrong. For example, if walking brings on a sensation of indigestion that seems to go away when you stop walking, call you doctor.

 

I just saw my doctor last week and got a clean bill of health, so how could this be a heart attack?

 

You don’t always experience warning symptoms prior to a heart attack. If you haven’t experienced any symptoms to draw to your doctor’s attention, your doctor may not be able to spot an impending heart attack.

 

Why is it important to call 911?

 

If you are in the throes of a heart attack you can deteriorate quickly. You are not stable enough to drive, nor should you put your family or friends through the trauma of driving you to the hospital.

 

What if my loved one won’t agree to go to the Emergency Department?

 

People in this situation are often in a state of denial about the seriousness of their symptoms. If your loved one refuses to get medical attention and you believe he or she is having a heart attack, you might consider making the phone call to 911 yourself. An ambulance can be at your location in minutes, to begin diagnosis and treatment en route to the hospital. The sooner the cardiac team can open the artery and get oxygen to your heart, the better your outcome.

 

Dr. Stefek is board certified in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology and is the director of interventional cardiology at Cayuga Medical Center’s Cayuga Heart Institute. He is in practice with Ithaca Cardiology Associates where he can be reached at (607) 272-0460.

 

 

 

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