Do you know the signs of a heart attack? Do you know what to do if you experience them? It is important to be aware, because not knowing could lead to death.
According to Jerilyn Alexander, RN, BSN, stroke and STEMI coordinator for Trinity Health, the best way to prevent damage from heart attacks is to recognize the warning signs and react. Most damage occurs within the first one or two hours during a heart attack, so taking immediate action can save muscle – “Time is Muscle,” as Alexander says – can save lives, and can maintain quality of life.
According to Mayo Clinic, a “textbook” case of a heart attack involves sudden, crushing chest pain and difficulty breathing, often brought on by exertion. “Many heart attacks don’t happen that way, though,” the Mayo Clinic said. “The signs and symptoms of a heart attack vary greatly from person to person.”
Cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly 836,546 deaths – that is about one in three deaths – in the United States. About 2,300 Americans – or one every 38 seconds – dies of cardiovascular disease each day.
In 2018, 242 patients at Trinity Health were diagnosed with having a heart attack, with 73 percent of the patients being male, said Erica Erck, RN, with Trinity Health’s Stroke/STEMI team. Despite the lower number of women here who had heart attacks, cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer of women; the American Heart Association says heart disease causes one in three deaths for women each year.
The average age of a heart attack patient at Trinity has increased to 66, from 62.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, most heart attacks are the result of coronary heart disease, a type of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is any abnormal condition of the heart or blood vessels. This includes not just coronary heart disease, but also stroke, congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, congenital heart disease, endocarditis, and many other conditions.
With cardiovascular disease, hereditary risk factors (ones you were born with and have no control over) include things like age, gender, heredity, and race. Those at greater risk are people age 65 and older, men, people with family history of heart disease, and people who are Mexican-American, Native American or native Hawaiian, and some Asian-Americans.
There are several signs of a heart attack that everyone should be aware of:
1. Chest discomfort – Any pain between your navel to the nose.
2. Discomfort in the center of the chest – A feeling of pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
3. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body – This can include one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach and can occur with or without chest pain.
4. Shortness of breath – This can happen during or before chest pain.
5. Other symptoms can occur – Cold sweats, nausea/ vomiting, or light-headedness. Those with diabetes may have atypical – or sometimes a lack of – symptoms that can be recognizable as being precursors of a heart attack.
In 2018, 55 percent of heart attack patients came to Trinity Hospital by private vehicle, rather than calling for an ambulance, Erck said. By driving themselves rather then calling 911, they may have allowed greater damage to their heart. If you experience any of these warning signs, it is important to call 9-1-1 (or Emergency Medical Services) and get to the nearest hospital, Alexander said. Why use 9-1-1? Studies show that patients who present via EMS receive quicker treatment than those that come by private vehicle. Community Ambulance has the capability to complete an EKG and transmit it to the Trinity Hospital Emergency Trauma Center prior to the patient’s arrival at the hospital. This allows necessary teams to be alerted if needed to improve the timeliness of care.
“All of the EMS agencies in the northwest region of the state have this capability as well, allowing for improved care in very rural areas of our state,” Alexander said. “At a statewide level, we are seeing a decrease in mortality in heart attack patients due to the implementation of EKGs by EMS, as well as developing and implementing protocols on all levels of care.” Getting medical intervention is very important at a time like this, Alexander said. “The longer you wait, the more damage you’ll have.”
Trinity Health’s healthcare providers target the full range of conditions related to the heart and vascular systems, including congestive heart failure, hypertension (high blood pressure), atherosclerosis (narrowing or hardening of the arteries), peripheral vascular disease, and more.
With a network of healthcare providers dedicated to assessment and intervention, Trinity Health has streamlined processes for initiating treatment and getting the patient definitive care. Trinity Health’s heart team includes board-certified cardiologists and cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons, nurses with cardiovascular expertise, exercise physiologists, and cardiac rehabilitation specialists. Heart care is a Center of Excellence at Trinity Health.
The number one risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease is hypertension – or high blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, recent blood pressure parameters have changed. Instead of 140/90 being acceptable, that number is now 130/80. “Good control of your blood pressure should be a discussion with your provider to find what the best is for you,” Erck said.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. High blood pressure can cause the heart to work overtime. In addition, the force of the blood flow can harm arteries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one U.S. adult in three – that’s about 75 million people – has high blood pressure, and only 54 percent have it under control.
“I see 80-year-olds that say they have no medical history, but they haven’t been to the doctor in 50 years,” Alexander says. “People don’t usually seek out medical help unless there is something wrong or they are sick.” In addition, she says, “some people do have a difficult time regulating their blood pressure. Some don’t take their medications because they feel they don’t need them or because they can’t afford them.”
Regularly scheduled checkups should be performed to keep heart disease at bay. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent or control your blood pressure:
• Maintain a healthy weight. According to the CDC, being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease.
• Be physically active. The American Heart Association says staying active is one of the most important things a person can do to help curb obesity and lower the risk of heart disease.
• Follow a healthy eating plan, which includes foods lower in salt. According to the American Heart Association, too much sodium in your system causes your body to retain water, which puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels. The association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. In addition, the CDC suggests eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.
• Don’t smoke. It is no secret that smoking isn’t healthy for you. According to the CDC, smokers have a much higher risk of developing coronary heart diseases than nonsmokers.
• Follow the advice of your provider.
• Take all medication as prescribed.