Heart Attack Warning Signs
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest, lasting more than a few minutes or going away and coming back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
- As with men, the most common heart attack symptom among women 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.
When a person experiences a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, time is muscle; time is survival. Heart attacks—caused by a blood clot in a coronary artery—block the blood supply and the oxygen it carries to the heart; the heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. The way to ensure that the heart gets the needed oxygen is to close the time gap between onset of symptoms and reperfusion—the reopening of the arteries that supply this oxygen to the heart muscle.
For this reason, Jefferson Healthcare has a system in place which will result in patients with ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)—an early heart attack—to receive critical thrombolytic (clot-busting) drugs, when indicated. This will occur either in the Jefferson Healthcare Emergency Department or during transport, depending on where the patient lives and whether they called 911. In all cases, the patient ultimately will be transported for definitive care by cardiologists in Bremerton.
The sooner a heart attack victim is treated, the better is the chance to save heart muscle. When the time goes beyond 90 minutes, the chance to save heart muscle diminishes. According to the American Heart Association, national statistics indicate that only a small percentage of patients transferred from primary care hospitals to hospitals with cardiac catheterization labs achieve restored blood flow within the ideal 90-minute window. Participants in the rapid process improvement are confident that the new system will add East Jefferson County residents to the small number nationwide who are transferred within this critical time period, and to the even smaller percentage who will receive thrombolytics on the way.
Jefferson Healthcare uses standard protocols that enable emergency responders to evaluate a heart attack patient under the direction of an emergency room physician at Jefferson Healthcare and to administer thrombolytic drugs, if appropriate, while en route to Harrison Medical Center.
Patients who arrive at Jefferson Healthcare by private vehicle will receive standardized assessment and treatment, including thrombolytics as appropriate. A key message to Jefferson County residents is that if you are experiencing chest pain or its equivalent , a call to 911 will shorten the time frames to definitive treatment—reperfusion, whether by thrombolytics or by percutaneous coronary intervention. Do not wait to be certain; an early call can make the difference to the rest of your life. Delay can be deadly.
What is a STEMI?
This is a ST-elevation myocardial infarction or a severe heart attack caused by a prolonged period of blocked blood supply that affects a large area of the heart. These attacks carry a substantial risk of death and disability and call for a quick response by many individuals and systems.
American Heart Association