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Stop Your Heart Attack Right Now

by Leslie Webb, MD

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Stop your heart attack emergency right now before it begins. Many people who reach the point of having a heart attack say they didn’t know they were at risk. Have you discussed your risks with your family doctor recently? Is your blood pressure at an acceptable level? Do you know your cholesterol numbers? If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, it’s time to take action.

Start by making an appointment with your primary care provider and request to have a fasting blood test to check your cholesterol levels in advance if possible. Be prepared to follow through with any recommendations your doctor makes regarding your diet, exercise, smoking, weight or medications. Also, buy some aspirin to keep at home (more about that later).

For the best heart health you should:

Stop smoking—There are many programs and medications available to help you overcome the challenges related to breaking this addiction.

Eat healthfully—Fill up on fruits and vegetables and avoid foods that are high in fat but low in nutritional value.

Exercise regularly—After clearing it with your doctor, aim for 30 minutes of heart-rate raising exercise at least five days a week.

Manage chronic conditions—High blood pressure and poor management of diabetes and cholesterol levels can have a bad cumulative effect on your heart and cardiovascular system.

Heart attack victims often say that looking back, they were feeling more tired than usual or they were easily tired during exercise. It’s easy to brush this symptom off as part of aging, but it’s something important to call to the attention of your doctor, especially when accompanied by shortness of breath.

If you or a loved one are experiencing heart attack symptoms, call 911 for immediate support then give that person a full strength dose of aspirin and stay with them until help arrives.

The signs and symptoms of a heart attack commonly include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pressure or pain in the center of the chest or abdomen that may radiate to the neck, arm, back or shoulder blades

Other symptoms more common to patients who have diabetes may include:

  • Tingling in either arm
  • Severe shortness of breath and dizziness
  • Severe nausea unlike any you’ve had before

A recent advance in heart attack treatment is streamlined processes helping patients get into emergency surgery more quickly. While many people think they can drive to the emergency room faster than the EMS can pick them up, an ambulance offers the advantage of equipment and trained personnel to monitor you, perform CPR, provide oxygen and other medications, and treatments as needed on your trip to the emergency room.

In addition, emergency personnel can transmit data about your heart’s rhythms right to the hospital alerting a special team to prepare the cardiac catheterization lab for emergency surgery. The faster blockages are removed from the heart the sooner blood flow is restored throughout the body and chances for damage to the heart, brain or other vital organs is reduced.

What if you call for help, and it turns out NOT to be a heart attack? That’s great news. No one has ever died from embarrassment, but good preventive measures and prompt emergency treatment have saved many lives!

Dr. Leslie A. Webb of UPMC Susquehanna’s Heart & Vascular Institute is a graduate of Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University. She completed fellowships at the University of Virginia and William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan.