In cases of heart attack, calling 911 may save your life
By Adrian Fluture, M.D. Feb 4, 2014
According to the latest statistics by the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, a distinction it’s held since 1900. More than one in three Americans has at least one form of cardiovascular disease. A heart attack happens when a heart vessel becomes completely blocked by a clot.
If this blockage continues for too long, the heart muscle will die. This can cause both mechanical and electrical problems, the most serious complication of which is death. Statistics show that one third of patients who have a complete heart vessel blockage will die within the first 24 hours. Most of these actually die within the first one to two hours after a heart attack begins.
A heart attack can be immediately diagnosed by an EKG, which is a recording of the heart's electrical activity. Once recognized, doctors and staff will work to unblock the vessel. The best treatment is to open the vessel with a balloon and leave behind a metal stent to keep it open. The faster the heart vessel is opened, the less heart muscle is lost and the greater the chance that the patient will survive.
Wyoming Medical Center has made very important changes in the way the heart attack is treated. As a result, we have observed tremendous improvements in our patient care. Not only are we able to diagnose heart attacks much faster than the national average, but we are able to treat them much more quickly. We rank close to the 90th percentile of U.S. hospitals in door-to-balloon time, the time from when a patient arrives at the emergency room to the time a balloon is inflated in the blocked vessel. That puts us in the top 10 percent of hospitals in the country in our response to heart attacks.
A year ago, we introduced our new prehospital EKG protocol to accelerate our treatment. As soon as a person calls 911 for chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, we immediately dispatch EMS personnel. Highly-trained paramedics quickly perform a 12M lead EKG on scene and send the results wirelessly to the physicians at Wyoming Medical Center. This allows physicians to know if a heart attack has occurred and, if one has, to start treatment protocols before the ambulance and patients have reached the hospital. This can shave minutes off the treatment time and increases the chances for survival with the least number of complications. Every minute counts when treating heart attacks. With all these new changes and our continuous struggle to improve treatment, our mortality rate for heart attack patients is half the national average.
We recommend that anyone who experiences any symptoms suggestive of a heart attack should call 911 immediately. They should not drive themselves to the hospital or ask a friend or family member to drive them. Heart attacks can kill soon after the onset of chest pain or other symptoms. This could cause a traffic accident if the patient is trying to drive him or herself, or could delay treatments if a friend or family member is behind the wheel. If the heart stops working en route to the hospital, there is no professional help immediately available. A person suffering a heart attack needs help to arrive as quickly as possible, and the fastest way to get efficient expert help is by calling 911 and using emergency medical services. Treatment starts on the scene.
Heart attack symptoms: ‘From belt to teeth’
Warning signs of a heart attack can be hard to identify. They may start slowly, presenting as mild pain and discomfort, and may develop over days or weeks. They can feel similar to symptoms of other ailments, including heart burn, making them easy to discount. Carefully weigh any pain or discomfort from “from belt to teeth” if you think you might be suffering a heart attack. Play it safe. If there is any doubt, call 911.
The more of the following symptoms present, the greater the likelihood of heart attack:
- Any pain, tightness, heaviness, pressure or squeezing in the chest. It may even feel like heart burn or a generalized apprehension or uncomfortable feeling.
- Pressure or pain spreading to the neck, jaw, left shoulder or both shoulders. You may feel tingling or numbness in the left arm and forearm, spreading to the inside of the arm. It may migrate to between the shoulder blades or, occasionally, to the back or spine.
- Feelings of fullness, pain or indigestion in the stomach.
- Sudden shortness of breath or cold sweating with no good explanation.
Dr. Adrian Fluture specializes in cardiology, interventional cardiology, and vascular/endovascular medicine. He is Director of Regional Myocardial Infarction Care at Wyoming Medical Center. Dr. Fluture is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, interventional cardiology, nuclear cardiology, echocardiography and vascular medicine, and CT angiography. He came to Casper in 2008 and practices at Wyoming Cardiopulmonary Services.