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To Your Health: Knowing heart attack symptoms saves lives

Dr. Srinivas Reddy

Dr. Srinivas Reddy

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:26PM



The signs of heart attack vary from one person to the next, and it’s critical to gain an understanding of what they are and what to do.

The general term we use to talk about symptoms that may be related to heart attack is chest pain. But rather than pain, some people feel pressure or squeezing in the chest. Still others, such as those with diabetes, may experience shortness of breath, with or without sweatiness.

Women often have atypical symptoms of a heart blockage, including elbow, jaw or back pain, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath. Some women ignore their symptoms, not only because they are not necessarily standard symptoms, but because they feel it won’t happen to them.

The reality is, coronary artery disease, not breast cancer, is the No. 1 killer of women.

In order to help raise awareness among women, the American Heart Association created the annual Go Red For Women movement.

It is especially vital to pay particular attention to chest pain in combination with exertion or with shortness of breath and sweating. Also chest pain in anyone who has risk factors should be immediately addressed. Risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a family history of early heart disease (under age 60), or a history of smoking.

With any symptoms, it is essential to call 911 immediately.

When you experience a heart attack, blood flow to part of the heart is blocked. If this blood flow is completely blocked off, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die. This is why we say, “time is muscle,” meaning the faster the situation is attended to, the more heart muscle we can save.

Studies have shown that when a hospital has protocols in place, less is missed.

Ideally, the hospital will administer an EKG and implement validated chest pain protocols that have been devised in order to best assess a patient’s condition.

Using a TIMI risk score, patients are evaluated on a scale of zero to seven.

Questions for determining the score include history and age of the patient, EKG findings, recent aspirin use, having a known blockage greater than 50 percent, and having two or more episodes of chest pain within 24 hours. A Certified Chest Pain Center will use this scoring method and have a separate set of orders in place for each of the three risk score categories, low-, medium- or high-risk, in order to expedite treatment.

Designation as a Certified Chest Pain Center means that a hospital has achieved a higher level of expertise in treating patients who arrive with heart attack symptoms.

Awarded by the Society of Chest Pain Centers, the designation is a patient’s assurance that the hospital meets evaluation standards for its ability to assess, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack. The processes in place are designed to reduce time from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment.

Locally, the Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields campuses of Franciscan St. James Hospital are accredited Certified Chest Pain Centers.

Whether or not you are treated at a Chest Pain Center, the most important thing is to be checked out by medical professionals at the first sign that you may be having a heart attack. Don’t second-guess or go to the Internet to try and figure out what’s happening; let a doctor and trained medical staff make the determination. Remember: time is muscle. The faster you are seen and assessed, the more heart muscle may be saved.

Dr. Reddy is the Franciscan St. James Health cardiovascular services medical director. Franciscan St. James is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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