Medical emergencies: Heart attack

A heart attack is still the leading cause of death in both men and women. Millions of individuals die from heart attack on a yearly basis. Emergency care that is given right away can drastically increase the chance for survival and recovery.

Remember that a heart attack is not always an abrupt and fatal event. Oftentimes, it is a developing process in which a clot forms in one of the arteries of the heart, thus depriving the heart of oxygen and blood. The longer the heart attack, the healthy heart muscle is subjected to lasting damage.

Many ignore the warning signs of a heart attack or simply wait until the symptoms become unbearable until seeking medical care. Some wait until they are certain that they are having a heart attack. Remember that these can only lead to life-threatening delays.

Heart attack

Uncomfortable fullness, pressure or squeezing sensation or pain in the middle of the chest that lasts for a few minutes or can come and go.

What are the indications of a heart attack?

Only healthcare professionals can determine if an individual is experiencing a heart attack. Your task is to recognize the warning signs and act quickly.

If an individual is experiencing a heart attack, bring him/her to the emergency department so that appropriate measures can be carried out such as angioplasty, stent placement or even heart bypass surgery. Additionally, hospitals can provide life-saving medications that work by stopping a heart attack by dissolving the clot and restoring the flow of blood to the heart. These medications work effectively once given within the first 1-2 hours after the onset of the symptoms when the damage is still limited.

Symptoms that may come and go

  • Uncomfortable fullness, pressure or squeezing sensation or pain in the middle of the chest that lasts for a few minutes or can come and go.
  • Chest discomfort along with fainting, lightheadedness, nausea, sweating or shortness of breath.
  • Pain that spreads to the neck, shoulders, arms, jaw or back.

Some of the less common warning indications of a heart attack that must be taken seriously if they accompany of the above symptoms include the following:

  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Palpitations, paleness or cold sweat
  • Abnormal chest pain or abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weakness, anxiety or fatigue

What to do during a heart attack

Once you suspect that an individual is experiencing a heart attack, you have to perform the following:

  • Call for emergency assistance right away. Always stay with the individual until the emergency team arrives. Do not attempt to drive the individual to the hospital.
  • After calling for emergency assistance, the operator will likely provide pre-arrival instructions (if appropriate) for the administration of aspirin and nitroglycerin while the emergency team is on the way.
  • In case the individual is conscious, keep him/her calm and assist to a comfortable position. The individual should stop all physical activity, lie down and loosen up clothing around the chest area.
  • If the individual is unconscious, make sure that he/she is lying on his/her back. Clear the airway and loosen up clothing at the neck, chest and waist. Assess the pulse and breathing. If absent, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation CPR if you are trained to do so.
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