If you or a loved one were having a heart attack, would you know it? While many people experience the “classic” heart attack symptoms of chest pain and pressure, there are many other warning signs to know. Being prepared and getting help right away can save your life or the life of someone you love.
What is a heart attack?
Heart attacks are quite common: In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, according to the American Heart Association.
Over time, plaque can build up in your arteries and potentially block or reduce blood flow to your heart, which is what causes a heart attack. Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. The longer it’s deprived of oxygen—and the longer you go without medical treatment—the more damage your heart muscle will sustain.
This plaque buildup doesn’t usually cause symptoms, so you may not realize you’re at risk for a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to see your primary care provider for a check-up each year.
The most common heart attack symptoms
Chest pain and pressure are by far the most common heart attack symptoms in both men and women. Chest pain (also called angina) can feel like discomfort, squeezing, fullness or pressure, like an elephant is sitting on your chest. You may notice more pain when you’re active. It may subside when you sit or lie down. Some people have continuous pain, while others have pain that comes and goes.
Other common signs are pain or discomfort in the arm, shoulder, jaw, back or neck; shortness of breath; cold sweat; lightheadedness, dizziness and fainting; nausea or vomiting; heartburn or indigestion; extreme fatigue and weakness; and rapid or irregular heartbeats. Women are more likely to experience these symptoms, though they can still occur in men.
When to call 911
If you’re having a heart attack (STEMI), the adage “time is muscle” is true. The sooner that blood flow can be restored, the less the chance of a bad outcome, like heart failure and death.
This relies on you being aware of heart attack symptoms and calling 911 as soon as possible. The EMS crews in our area have extensive training and all of the equipment needed to recognize and treat heart attacks in the early stages. The crews can also activate the heart attack team at Pardee so we can prepare to meet the patient as soon as they arrive and take them to the heart catheterization lab, where we can open the closed artery in the shortest time possible.
The longer it takes to get to a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) center or heart attack hospital, the more heart muscle is lost. That is why Pardee opened our heart attack center this past spring. People in our community no longer have to travel the distance to Asheville to receive state-of-the-art interventional heart care.
Since opening on February 1, Pardee has treated 46 patients for STEMI. That is twice the number of heart attack cases treated at Pardee over the past three years combined.
Pardee also performs “routine” coronary intervention (balloon and stent procedures). In the first six months of 2021, the monthly average number of heart cath procedures has doubled.
Similarly, in the first six months of 2021, the number of coronary interventions is almost equal to the total of all coronary interventions for the past three years combined.
More importantly, all of these heart procedures are tracked in a national database comparing our outcomes to other PCI centers across the country. These results place us in the top half of all U.S. hospitals performing heart attack care and testify to the quality of care at Pardee.
How to prevent a heart attack
While some heart attacks aren’t preventable because of genetics or certain medical conditions, many are avoidable. Living a heart-healthy lifestyle is your best defense against having a heart attack.
This includes exercising regularly, not smoking, knowing your family history of heart disease, eating heart-healthy foods, cutting back on processed foods and alcohol, managing stress, and getting regular check-ups with your primary care provider.
To find a provider near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.
Dr. Moore is a board-certified interventional cardiologist at Pardee Cardiology Associates.