When it comes to chest pain, the most important thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to develop a “chest pain action plan’ and be ready to use it. However, if you are like most people, you are probably reluctant to speak up if you’re experiencing physical discomfort. Maybe you are feeling numbness in your arm or jaw, nausea or dizziness. Perhaps it’s tightness in your chest, or a burning sensation. You may chalk it up to indigestion. Or perhaps you pass it off as ‘nothing serious’—if I wait, maybe it will go away.
For many of us, it is difficult to believe that we may actually be having a heart attack, yet each year, approximately 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attack and nearly one-third will die—many before they reach the hospital. That’s why it’s important to know the warning signs and have an action plan in place which includes two simple steps: 1) knowing the best facility for evaluation and treatment in your area and, 2) calling 911 as soon as early symptoms occur.
Fifty percent of people who have heart attacks have early warning symptoms—important clues that allow time for intervention and preventive care. Heart attacks have ‘beginnings’ that can occur weeks before the actual attack. By recognizing the symptoms and getting to a hospital quickly you have a much better chance of survival.
Know these signs of a potential heart attack:
- Chest or upper body discomfort that feels like pressure, squeezing or fullness
- Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, shoulder, jaw or stomach
- Cold sweats, nausea or light headedness
- Back pain or lower chest or upper abdominal pressure
- Unusual shortness of breath
Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms. Approximately 50 percent of those having heart attack symptoms ask a friend or family member to drive them to the hospital—which can cost them their life. Not only can an ambulance get you there more quickly, but treatment often starts in the ambulance, increasing your chance of survival. In-ambulance care may include the administration of medication that can slow damage to your heart, or an electrocardiogram (ECG), to determine whether or not a heart attack is actually occurring. The ECG results can be sent to the hospital prior to your arrival, shortening the entire process of your evaluation and treatment.
Most importantly, take the time to find out which health care facilities in your area are “Accredited Chest Pain Centers”. Accredited Chest Pain Centers undergo a rigorous evaluation of the processes surrounding the treatment of a heart attack. The Society of Chest Pain Centers (SCPC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the care of the heart patient is an excellent place to begin your research. Because not all hospitals are equipped to provide rapid, competent care, knowing which hospitals in your area are accredited will provide you the assurance that medical processes are in place to significantly improve your chance of survival.
For more information on the Society of Chest Pain Centers and a list of Accredited Chest Pain Centers in your area, please visit their website at www.scpcp.org and click on “accreditation”.