Q: How can I
tell if I'm having a heart attack?
Often, it is not easy
to tell. But there are symptoms people may have. These are: an
uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of
the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes
back; discomfort in other areas of the upper body, which may be felt
in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of
breath, which often occurs with or before chest discomfort; and other
symptoms such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or
light-headedness. When in doubt, check it out! Call 9-1-1. Donít wait
more than a few minutes - 5 at most. Call right away!
Q: What is angina and how is it different from a heart attack?
An episode of angina is
NOT a heart attack. However, people with angina report having a hard
time telling the difference between angina symptoms and heart attack
symptoms. Angina is a recurring pain or discomfort in the chest that
happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood
temporarily. A person may notice it during exertion (such as in
climbing stairs). It is usually relieved within a few minutes by
resting or by taking prescribed angina medicine. People who have been
diagnosed with angina have a greater risk of a heart attack than do
Q: Iíd rather wait until Iím sure somethingís really wrong. Whatís the
Clot-busting drugs and
other artery-opening treatments work best when given within the first
hour after a heart attack starts. The first hour also is the most
risky time during a heart attackĖitís when your heart might stop
suddenly. Responding fast to your symptoms substantiallyincreases your
chance of surviving.
Q: So how quickly should I
If you have any
heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately. Donít wait for more than
a few minutes - 5 at most Ė to call 911.
Q: Why should I bother? If Iím going to die, thereís not much I can do
about it anyway, is there?
Thatís not true. There
is something that can be done about a heart attack. Doctors have
clot-busting drugs and other artery-opening procedures that can stop
or reverse a heart attack, if given quickly. These drugs can limit the
damage to the heart muscle by removing the blockage and restoring
blood flow. Less heart damage means a better quality of life after a
Given that these new
therapies are available, itís very sad to know that so many people
cannot receive these treatments because they delay too long before
seeking care. The greatest benefits of these therapies are gained when
patients come in early (preferably within the first hour of the start
of their symptoms).
Q: Emergency medical personnel cause such a commotion. Canít I just
have my wife/husband/friend/coworker take me to the hospital?
personnel bring medical care to you. For example, they bring oxygen
and medications. And they can actually restart someoneís heart if it
stops after they arrive. Your wife/husband/friend/coworker canít do
that, or help you at all if they are driving. In the ambulance,
there are enough people to give you the help you need and get you to
the hospital right away.
Q: I carry nitroglycerin pills all the time for my heart condition. If
I have heart attack symptoms, shouldnít I try them first?
Yes, if your doctor has
prescribed nitroglycerin pills, you should follow your doctorís
orders. If you are not sure about how to take your nitroglycerin when
you get chest pain, check with your doctor.
What about taking an aspirin like we see on television?
You should not delay
calling 911 to take an aspirin. Studies have shown that people
sometimes delay seeking help if they take an aspirin (or other
medicine). Emergency department personnel will give people
experiencing a heart attack an aspirin as soon as they arrive. So, the
best thing to do is to call 911 immediately and let the professionals
give the aspirin.