A recent New England Journal of Medicine study reviewed the records of about 97,000 patients with severe heart attacks who were admitted to 5151 hospitals between 2005 and 2009. Although many hospitals improved the time between when patients arrived at the emergency room and underwent intervention, the survival rate did not improve. Researchers then looked at what happens before a heart patient arrives in the emergency room.
They found that 40 percent of patients with severe heart attack don't call 911, causing significant treatment delays. The American Heart Association launched its Lifeline program to teach the public to recognize heart attack symptoms and act quickly. Fast action saves lives.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die. Michele Hooper, manager in the AHA National CPR/Emergency Cardiovascular Care programs, said the heart muscle will no longer be able to pump efficiently, a life-threatening event that requires immediate medical care.
What it looks like
Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and may include intense discomfort, pressure or pain in the chest or other areas of the upper body. There is often shortness of breath, cold sweats, and/or nausea/vomiting. More often, though, symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before a heart attack. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back, neck or jaw pain.
The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. The victim is often aware and alert but in distress. The longer the person goes without treatment, the greater the damage to the heart which can result in death or permanent damage to the heart's function (heart failure).
What you can do
If some or all symptoms are present, even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, call 9-1 or your emergency response number. Every minute matters. It's best to call EMS to get to the emergency room right away. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive - up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car.
"Calling 911 activates the local emergency response system," Hooper said. "Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too."
Most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest - when the heart stops beating. But when cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause. The American Heart Association also encourages everyone to be prepared in a cardiac arrest emergency and learn Hands Only CPR by watching a one-minute video at www.heart.org/handsonlycpr.
Visit www.heart.org/heartattack to learn more about how to recognize heart attacks.
Heart Attack Signs in Women
? Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
? Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
? Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
? Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
? As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
? If you have any of these signs, don't wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 911 and get to a hospital right away.