Heart Attack: Ten Things Everyone Should Know
Article by Lynn Woods
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America. Heart attacks happen when a blockage in the heart’s arteries reduces or cuts off the blood and oxygen supply to the heart, damaging the heart muscle within minutes. Because heart attacks are so common and the damage is often fatal or irreversible, it’s vital that everyone know the symptoms and how to react quickly.
1) Chest pain is commonly associated with a heart attack, and it is the most frequently reported symptom. But it may not be severe or “stabbing”. Chest pain often feels more like pressure, tightness or discomfort, which may start slowly and build. The pain is often accompanied by shortness of breath.
2) It’s not unusual for a heart attack to cause pain in other areas of the upper body instead of the chest. The pain may radiate down one or both arms, and be accompanied by a tingling sensation in the wrist or hand. Or it may be felt in the back, shoulders, neck, jaw or even the stomach.
3) Other symptoms of heart attack include unexplained indigestion, nausea, vomiting, weakness, light-headedness, breathlessness, palpitations and breaking out into a cold sweat. These may or may not be accompanied by chest pain or discomfort.
4) Many heart attack victims report feeling anxiety and/or a sense of impending doom.
5) Denial is common in people having a heart attack, especially if they are unfamiliar with the symptoms or the symptoms are mild. Many people having a heart attack minimize the situation and don’t want to go to the hospital or to call 911. Take charge and seek medical help if symptoms persist for more than five minutes – don’t wait for the possible victim to agree.
6) It’s not uncommon to have a heart attack and not know it. The Framington Heart Study followed 4000 men for 40 years, and found that one-quarter of their subjects had a heart attack that went unnoticed until they underwent an annual EKG.
7) Getting treatment within the first hour is crucial. Death and permanent heart damage can often be avoided if heart attack victims are treated within the first hour after the start of symptoms.
Nearly half of all heart attacks occur in people under the age of 65. Five percent occur in people under 40.
9) Women are less likely to survive a heart attack than men. And African American women’s death rates are one-third higher than those of white women. African American women suffer more high blood pressure and diabetes, both risk factors for heart disease.
10) Taking an Aspirin at the first sign of symptoms is a good idea if you’re having a heart attack, but might make things worse if you’re having a stroke, which attacks the brain instead of the heart. That’s because some strokes are due to bleeding in the brain, which may be worsened by taking Aspirin.
People who have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, a heart attack will usually be prescribed medication or a combination of medications such as blood thinners (or anti-platelet medication), cholesterol-lowering medications, and beta-blockers. It’s important to take these medications just as your doctor prescribes them, and for as long as you doctor prescribes.
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