Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m in great shape for my age”? Or how about, “Given the amount I exercise, I’ll live forever”? Well, I hope you are right and you have MANY great quality years watching your family grow and prosper ahead of you. The problem is that there are NO guarantees!
Did you know that a person somewhere in the United States (US) has a heart attack EVERY 34 seconds? To complicate matters, heart attack symptoms can present as back pain, especially among females. That’s why our first actions when a heart attack occurs can make or break the outcome!
Over the last 10 years, there has been about a 40% reduction in deaths associated with heart attacks because of a shortened time span between symptom onset and getting to the ER (< 1 hr).
Unfortunately, another 40%, or about 120,000 people per year, NEVER even make it to the hospital because they didn’t seek help in time. The tendency is to “stick our head in the sand” and sit at home taking antacids for indigestion or simply talk ourselves out of going to the ER.
1. Know The Symptoms
When oxygen does not reach the heart muscle wall (usually because of a clot blocking blood flow), “classic signs” include chest pain, arm pain (the left arm more than the right), back pain, shoulder pain (left side more likely), neck or jaw pain, stomach pain, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms often include sweating, nausea, and/or vomiting.
However, up to 33% of those who have a heart attack DON’T have “classic” symptoms. These folks tend to be female, older, and/or diabetic. The elderly are commonly “atypical” as they often experience confusion, labored breathing, and/or a feeling of light-headedness or fainting.
Symptoms can arise gradually, and they can also come and go. This process can go on for days or weeks! One interesting study reported that heart attack victims between ages 32 and 74 were more likely to have visited their doctor in the week prior to the heart attack (so even doctors can “miss it”)!
Key Point: Don’t ignore unusual symptoms!
2. Call 911 (Or The Numbers Used For Medical Emergencies Outside Of The US)
If you can get to the ER within an hour, your chances for survival with less heart muscle damage (meaning a higher quality of life) improve dramatically. Tell a spouse, friend, or neighbor you’re “not feeling right and it might be my heart,” as, often, they are the ones who call the paramedics.
3. Take Immediate Action
The American Heart Association recommends chewing and swallowing a regular, uncoated 325mg aspirin (not baby aspirin) even before the EMTs arrive. This will thin the blood and help reduce the blood clotting effect often associated with heart attacks.
This usually does NOT stop the heart attack, but it can reduce the damage to the heart muscle. If you are not comfortable taking an aspirin, use a natural anti-coagulant such as parsley, pineapple, papaya, willow, and/or garlic that can help thin the blood.
Make sure your front door is unlocked so emergency services can easily get to you.
Key Point: Please do not try to drive yourself to the hospital.
4. Be Ready
Give the EMTs your medication list (especially if Viagra is on it, as you cannot be given nitroglycerin because of a possible serious drug interaction). If you’re a woman and the paramedics are struggling, it’s OK to say, “I think I’m having a heart attack,” to get them on track!
5. Be Assertive
Studies show that those who are persistent about concern for a heart attack rather than being shy, quiet, or in denial get more prompt attention by both EMTs and ER personnel.