It Could Be a Heart Attack
Needless to say, a heart attack is a medical emergency. But when it comes to getting the right kind of help for their own heart attacks, people hesitate.
People recognize the benefit of calling an ambulance if they witness someone else with possible heart attack symptoms, but when they experience the same symptoms themselves, they take a less expedient approach, according to a recent study from the University of Utah. Through a random telephone survey of almost 1,000 adults in 20 communities nationwide, researchers found that 89% of people would dial 911 to get help for a possible heart attack victim, but a survey of another 875 persons arriving at the emergency room with chest pain found that only 23% actually called emergency medical services to get help for themselves.
The American Heart Association (AHA) strongly advocates calling 911 immediately when a cardiac emergency is suggested. Early treatment is critical, since thrombolytic agents, commonly called “clot-busting” drugs, can help break up clots in the arteries if given within a few hours of symptom onset. In fact, these and other drugs can reduce the chance of dying from a heart attack by 25% if given soon after the onset of chest pain, discomfort in the left arm, jaw, or neck, sweating, nausea, or weakness.
Unfortunately, only a fraction of patients who are eligible for these life-saving treatments receive therapy in time. In some cities, the emergency medical service personnel can administer these agents in the ambulance—yet another reason for calling 911 rather than getting to the hospital on your own.
Once you arrive in the emergency room, you will receive blood tests and an electrocardiogram test that will usually confirm whether a heart attack is occurring. Sometimes, additional tests are necessary, such as an echocardiogram or radionuclide imaging test that will show whether blood flow has been obstructed. You will also be given an aspirin, which reduces clot formation in the coronary artery, and probably a beta-blocker to slow the heart rate. If you have arrived in time, you will probably receive a thrombolytic (clot-busting) agent and/or immediately undergo balloon angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery to open your blocked coronary arteries and restore blood flow. In addition to thrombolytics, angioplasty, and surgery, you may receive other agents to help keep the blood flowing, including heparin or perhaps a very new drug called a GPIIb-IIIa inhibitor.
The key is rapid and appropriate treatment from emergency medical services!
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