Every Second Counts
By Qutaybeh Maghaydah, MD, FACC
There have been many advances in the treatment of coronary artery disease and heart attacks in the last three decades. Yet in spite of important new medications, technology, and interventional procedures, heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States for both genders. One of the main reasons heart attacks claim so many lives is that the public is still not sufficiently aware of the symptoms of heart attack and the importance of seeking immediate medical help when these symptoms occur.
Time is of the essence for someone having a heart attack; literally every second counts. Calling 911 promptly and getting to the nearest Emergency Department can make a world of difference in your ability to survive and in your doctor’s ability to minimize damage to your heart muscle.
What are the symptoms of heart attack?
The most common symptom is the sudden onset of chest pain, at rest or with exertion. This can be accompanied by other associated symptoms including pain in the jaw or arm, or sudden numbness in the arm; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; sweating; and dizziness or passing out.
Having said that, heart attack can also present itself with atypical symptoms, without chest pain. For example, you may just feel upset stomach or heartburn; abdominal pain, which is common in women; throat pain; jaw pain; nausea or vomiting; or pain between the shoulder blades. There may no chest pain.
Sometimes these symptoms feel minimal, but they should not be ignored, especially in people who have already had a heart attack or who are at high risk for heart disease. It’s important to remember that heart attacks happen to people of all ages, even those with no clearly evident risk factors.
What factors increase my likelihood of developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack?
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Family history of coronary artery disease
- Lack of activity and sedentary lifestyle
If I experience heart attack symptoms and go to the Emergency Department what can I expect?
Cayuga Medical Center is an accredited Chest Pain Center. People arriving with symptoms of heart attack are triaged as the highest priority. Assessment and medical treatment begin immediately to determine the status of your heart and to restore blood flow to the blocked coronary arteries.
Experienced interventional cardiologists are available at the Cayuga Heart Institute 24 hours a day, seven days a week to open blocked arteries using a procedure called PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention). If the cardiologist determines that you require bypass surgery, you will be stabilized and quickly referred to a nearby cardiac surgery center.
How can I make a difference in the New Year?
- Each of us should work to increase awareness of heart attack symptoms among our family and friends, as well as in our community.
- Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), or renew your CPR certification.
- Work to increase the availability of AED (automated external defibrillation) devices in public places. They save lives.
Let’s all make a commitment to improve our individual heart health. If you weigh too much, improve your diet and increase your exercise. If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor about quitting. If your cholesterol and blood pressure are too high, work with your doctor to lower them. If you have diabetes, be consistent in maintaining a healthy blood sugar level. Consider calling the Center for Healthy Living at the Island Health Center at 607-252-3590. Their team of friendly experts can help you reach your heart-health goals.
Dr. Maghaydah is board certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease, a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and serves on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical Center. He is in practice with Cayuga Cardiology of Cayuga Medical Associates and can be reached at 607-269-0100.