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Published on August 05, 2014

Many heart attacks have early warnings

 by Aynsley Anderson 

Some heart attacks occur suddenly and without any warning. However, it is now well known by medical experts that over half of heart attacks do start with very early and often mild symptoms.  

The statistics are sobering. According to the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, every 25 seconds an American will have a coronary event, and every minute someone will die of one. The Centers for Disease Control notes that each year about 720,000 Americans will have a heart attack. Of these, 515,000 are a first heart attack, while the remaining are repeat heart attacks.

Many members of the public are unaware of the early signs of a heart attack. In fact, a survey conducted in 2005 indicated that most respondents (92 percent) knew that chest pain was a symptom of a heart attack. However, only 27 percent were aware of all major heart attack symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1.

Working in conjunction with the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, formerly known as the Society of Chest Pain Centers, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and its Chest Pain team are trying to build community knowledge of heart attack signs and symptoms and of the importance of early heart attack care (EHAC). The Chest Pain team is made up of physicians, nurses, educators, quality personnel, emergency medical services providers, and several other healthcare providers that are involved in the care of cardiovascular patients.

About 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. This suggests that many people with heart disease don't act on early warning signs. As much as 85 percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack. Thus it is vital to seek medical treatment early.

Most heart attacks do involve chest pain or discomfort. For some people, these chest pain symptoms are initially mild with just burning, pressure, squeezing, aching or tightness. 

Other early warning symptoms of heart attack that both men and women may experience include nausea, pain that travels down one or both arms, jaw pain, fatigue, anxiety, back pain, shortness of breath or a feeling of fullness.

People may or may not experience any or all of these symptoms. Many of these symptoms will come and go until they usually become constant and severe and cannot be ignored.

The American Heart Association says that “minutes matter,” and fast action can save lives. If you or someone else is experiencing any of the above symptoms for more than five minutes, call 9-1-1. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive and thus greatly decrease the chance of having heart damage or even death.

The Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care urges people commit to three steps. These are:

  • Learn the early signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Share EHAC with others.
  • Take the EHAC oath. You can do this at scpcp.org.

LMH has been an accredited Chest Pain Center for many years. Because LMH cardiologists are available 24/7 for percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), LMH also was certified as a Chest Pain Center with PCI in 2012. PCI involves opening a blocked coronary artery by inflating a balloon or inserting a stent in the vessel where the blockage occurs. Faster intervention typically means less heart damage and better chances for recovery.

For information about cardiac care at LMH, visit lmh.org/heart; for an online heart attack risk assessment, visit lmh.org/assess-your-risk. For more information on heart attacks including risk factors and prevention strategies, you can also visit heart.org

Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN, is Community Education Coordinator for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at aynsley.anderson@lmh.org.

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