Survive. Don't Drive: In case of a heart attack, dial 911

By Kristy Bleizeffer Dec 20, 2013

It seems like common sense: At the first signs of heart attack, call 911. Do not lie down to see if the symptoms pass. Do not ask a friend or loved one to drive you to the hospital. Above all else, don't think you can drive to the hospital yourself.

Americans wait an average of 2 hours after the first symptoms appear before deciding to do something about them, said cardiologist Dr. Adrian Fluture, Director of Regional Myocardial Infarction Care at Wyoming Medical Center. Only about 60 percent of those patients use EMS services, instead trying to make it to the hospital on their own.  Natrona County’s numbers are even worse. Here, only 30 percent of people who suspect heart attacks call 911.

That can be a deadly decision.

Heart attacks require immediate medical treatment. When a patient calls 911, Wyoming Medical Center shaves an average of 10 to 11 minutes off 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. The shorter the time, the more heart tissue doctors can save.

“Data shows that of the people who die from (heart) rhythm disturbances, most of them die within the first one hour of onset. Rhythm disturbances can be so bad that it can kill you within a couple or three minutes,” Fluture said. “You need to trust the system. Dial 911. Every minute a person delays medical treatment increases the likelihood of damage or even death.”

At the first signs of heart attack, call 911. Never drive yourself to the hospital or have someone else drive you.  Here are three reasons why:

1. You may crash your car.

If you suffer a heart rhythm disturbance on the drive, you will likely crash. Worse, you may crash into another car or run over pedestrians.

“The thing I tell my patients is they may kill a mom with kids coming from school. Just be responsible,” Fluture said. “These are unpredictable things. You cannot say, ‘I just have a chest pain. I know I’m going to be fine until I reach the hospital.’ You can never guarantee that.”

2.  Cardiac resuscitation requires a team effort.

Even if a loved one is trained in cardiac resuscitation, one person is not enough. He needs help to arrive as quickly as possible, and calling 911 is the fastest way to get it. If a loved one decides to drive you to the hospital and you go into cardiac arrest, he can’t do anything for you while he's behind the wheel.

Ambulances are mobile emergency medical clinics. When paramedics reach you, they can treat low blood pressure, administer IVs and aspirin, remove clothing and prep you for immediate admission to the hospital. If you go into cardiac arrest, paramedics are trained with defibrillators and can resuscitate you – at home or en route to the hospital. Casper Fire/EMS crews, which may arrive on emergency scenes before anyone else, also carry and are trained on defibrillators.

“The earlier you get these things done, the higher the chance the patient will survive if heart rhythm disturbance happens,” Fluture said.

3. Time means muscle.

Treatment is started more quickly for patients who call 911. That means less chance for damage to heart tissue.

Natrona County’s fire crews and WMC’s ambulance crews have all been trained to start the first phase of treatment in suspected heart attacks. Upon arriving on scene, they will perform an EKG and send the results to the hospital right then. Hospital doctors will read the results and, if you are indeed suffering a heart attack, will prepare the Cath Lab team and forward the results to the cardiologist’s personal cell phone. The cardiologist can respond to the hospital while you are en route.

“Everything that we need to do at the hospital is already prepared when the patient is rolling in by ambulance. The whole time to treatment will be much shorter,” Fluture said.

Our heart program is among the best in the country, but you have to trust the medical professionals to take care of you. The American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline protocol recommends a 90 minute door-to-balloon time. Wyoming Medical Center averages 41 minutes, putting us in the top 90th percentile of American hospitals. But we can only save patients and provide the best outcomes when they get to us as quickly and as safely as possible.

 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.

Dr. Fluture recommends that you 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.
  • Shortness of breath or cold sweating with no good explanation.
Adrian Fluture, M.D.

Adrian Fluture M.D., F.A.C.C., F.S.C.A.I.

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.

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