Having A Heart Attack? Act In Time!
It's hard to believe, but most Americans do not call 9-1-1, their doctors or
their hospital quickly enough when they're experiencing classic symptoms of
a heart attack. For this reason, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have issued a joint call to
action to educate women and men about the signs and symptoms of heart attacks
and what to do immediately. Ironically, despite tremendous life-saving advances
in the treatment of heart attack, only a small percentage of patients are getting
to the hospital early enough to reap the benefits of that therapy. How important
is this? Delay in seeking medical treatment is a key factor in the nearly one-half
million heart attack deaths in the U.S. each year.
To combat this, the NHLBI and the AHA have launched a major new heart attack
education campaign called Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs. Act in
Time targets patients and the general public as well as physicians and seeks
to raise awareness about the need for a fast response. "Our goal is to save
lives by increasing the woefully low number of heart attack patients who are
treated within the first hour of experiencing symptoms," says Claude Lenfant
MD, Director of the NHLBI. "It is during that crucial 60-minute window
that clot-busting medication and other treatments are most effective. Alarmingly,
only 1 in 5 patients gets to the hospital emergency department soon enough to
benefit from these treatments.
Most potential heart attack victims wait at least two to four hours before
seeking medical help once they have symptoms of a heart attack. How can this
be? The main reason is that most people with heart attacks do not have what
has been called a "Hollywood heart attack" in which crushing chest
pain and shortness of breath come in response to some major stressor. On the
contrary, many heart attacks-especially in women or adults with diabetes--are
much 'quieter,' causing only mild pain or discomfort. In addition to uncertainty
about symptoms, many patients fear they will be embarrassed if their symptoms
turn out to be a false alarm. In addition, the majority of women still view
heart attacks as a 'male' problem even though cardiovascular disease is the
leading killer of both men and women.
The most common heart attack warning signs are chest pain or discomfort; discomfort
in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath; breaking
out in a cold sweat; nausea; and light-headedness. While a heart attack could
potentially affect anyone, the classic risk factors include having had a previous
heart attack; a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease; high blood
pressure; elevated cholesterol; smoking; sedentary lifestyle; diabetes; age
over 50 for men; and menopausal for women.
Calling 9-1-1 can increase heart attack survival not only by getting patients
to the hospital faster, but also because emergency medical personnel can give
a variety of medications and treatments even before arrival at the hospital.
Even something as simple as taking an aspirin at the first sign of a heart attack
can improve survival rates significantly.
The Act in Time campaign provides various educational materials for
health care providers, heart attack patients and the public including a booklet,
an educational video, and new Web pages, which can be reached through the NHLBI
Web site: www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
Created: 10/14/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.