Heart Watch: Identifying a Heart Attack

Just like with strokes, a heart attack can happen anywhere, at any time and to nearly anyone. The symptoms are not always seen right away and this causes a decline in the recovery and damage done to the heart. Knowing the signs, what to do and where to go can make a difference and increase survival and improved outcomes. This is a resource to help you recognize cardiac compromise in yourself or someone else so you know what to do and how to get help. 

Risk Factors

There are different things that can contribute to and increase your risks for heart disease:

  • A family history
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking

These can work alone or together to increase your risks for heart disease and place you at a higher risk for heart attacks and stroke. 

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Recognition

The symptoms of heart problems can vary from person to person. There are several symptoms that should raise a red flag and trigger you to seek help. 

In men:

  • Chest pain, discomfort or pressure in the center of the chest (that may or may not move to other parts of the body)
  • Shortness of breath not caused by activity
  • Jaw, neck, shoulder or back pain with or without chest pain

In women:

  • GI upsets (heartburn, nausea, and indigestion)
  • Fatigue or Dizziness
  • Chest pain or discomfort

 

The symptoms also can vary if you have diabetes. Seeing any of these signs is a reason to seek expert help from your nearest Emergency Room. Urgent care and doctor’s offices are not equipped to do the testing immediately and can cause a delay in getting you the tests you need.  

What To Do

If you or a loved one begin having any of these symptoms, there are a few different actions that you can take. 

If you are at home:

  1. Have the person sit down and rest. 

    • This decreases the workload on their heart and can help to keep them calm.
    • It allows for a chance to see if the symptoms subside (such as becoming short of breath after exercise or exertion)
  2. Call for Emergency Services

    • This gets professionals with tools for early diagnosis on the way. 
  3. Keep Calm. 

    • Allowing the person to remain calm will assist with keeping their heart rate down, not add fear to the situation and allow you to think clearly. 

If you’re not at home the steps are slightly different. If you are driving in a car, you can detour to the hospital to seek help quicker than if you are outdoors. If you find yourself outdoors during this time (like hunting or hiking):

  1. Call for help immediately. 

    • It will take longer for help to get to you and there are special resources needed if you are not near a road. 
  2. If possible, (ONLY IF the individual is awake and able), slowly make your way towards a main trail or road where you can be easily reached. 

    • If you or your loved one is able to slowly walk, taking frequent breaks, to a parking lot, the main trail or to a nearby path, it can make it easier for you to be located and quicker to get help. 
    • DO NOT ATTEMPT if you are unable to walk more than a few steps without becoming short of breath or if you are very lightheaded. While you’re easier to find in a parking lot, it’s not worth the risks if you pass out or cause further harm or damage to yourself. 
  3. Remain calm.

    • Help is on the way, and keeping yourself or the person calm helps to keep their heart rate down, their breathing normal and talking to them can ease tension in the situation. 

 

What to Expect

No matter how you get there or if 911 comes to you, there are certain steps that are taken initially that you can expect for yourself or your loved one.

  • Your vital signs including your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels will be assessed. These are all noninvasive ways to check how your body is responding. 
  • You may be given oxygen. This is a standard of care if your body is showing signs of having difficulty as seen through shortness of breath or low oxygen levels. It can also decrease the workload on your heart if you are having a cardiac episode. 
  • An EKG will be performed. This includes having small stickers and wires placed on your body and chest to measure the activity in your heart. This is the key way to diagnose and rule out a heart attack. 
  • An IV and blood work will be done. There are different components in the blood (such as Troponin- an enzyme that shows heart damage) that can be measured to determine if there is a life-threatening cause for your symptoms. 
  • You’re going to be monitored for at least a few hours. The blood tests and ECG are often repeated to see if there are changes in the activity or components along with seeing if your symptoms resolve with medications, oxygen and rest. 
  • Doctors will speak with you during the monitoring to tell you what their thoughts are, if an expert or cardiologist is needed, whether you’ll need medications or hospitalizations and work with you to create a plan for treatment. 

 

The best thing you can do for yourself or your loved one in any situation is to remain calm. Being level headed and recognizing that help is needed is the first and most important step in the entire process. The calmer you are, the faster you can respond to the need and call for help. The 911 operator may give you additional instructions to follow that you are only able to accomplish if you are calm enough to understand and fulfill these tasks. 

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