Smart: Know the
Signs of a Heart Attack
By Robert Preidt, HealthScoutNews
words "heart attack" and most of us recoil at the image
of someone clutching at their chest in sudden, obvious agony before
collapsing to the ground.
While that scenario
happens in some cases, you should know that mild chest pain, discomfort
in the jaw, and lightheadedness are among other, less-dramatic signs
that can signal a heart attack.
And if you
don't respond quickly to those warning signals and delay getting
treatment, you're putting yourself at risk for heart damage and
the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the
National Council on the Aging, the American Heart Association and
other groups have launched a new public education campaign called
"Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs."
Too few Americans
get to a hospital fast enough when they have a heart attack; anyone
with symptoms should call 9-1-1 immediately. Yet studies show that
many people wait two hours or more before they seek emergency care,
according to the NHLBI.
about 1.1 million Americans suffer a heart attack and about 460,000
of them die. Nearly half of those deaths occur within one hour of
the start of symptoms, the NHLBI says.
certainly aware that the number one cause of death and disability
in older Americans is due to premature heart attack and stroke,"
says Roba Whiteley, the National Council on the Aging's vice president
of marketing and communications.
don't know what the signs and symptoms are and it can be quite confusing,"
happen when blood flow to the heart is nearly or completely blocked.
And it's during the crucial first hour after symptoms appear that
"clot-busting" drugs and other treatments, such as angioplasty,
are most effective in opening clogged arteries and restoring blood
flow, says Mary Hand, coordinator of the NHLBI's National Heart
Attack Alert Program.
the artery is opened and the blood flow in the blocked artery is
reestablished, the much better outcome the patients have, both in
terms of surviving and in terms of saving their heart muscle,"
Yet only one-in-five
heart attack patients gets to a hospital emergency room fast enough
to benefit from these treatments.
Some of the
less-familiar signs of a heart attack include: chest discomfort
or pain; discomfort in the arm or arms, as well as the back, neck,
jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; a cold sweat; nausea, or lightheadedness.
don't know that these milder symptoms may indicate a heart attack;
they dismiss them signs as indigestion, the flu or even a pulled
people are unaware of these subtle signs is that too few doctors
take the time to discuss them with their patients, Hand says. One
focus of the "Act in Time" campaign is to get physicians
to talk to their patients about heart attack symptoms and how to
respond to them.
Lack of knowledge
isn't limited to a heart attack's warning signs.
are slow to seek help when having a heart attack simply because
they believe they're not at risk.
still, as a rule, don't think that they're going to get heart disease
or a heart attack. They're more concerned about breast cancer. And
yet one-in-three women are going to die from heart disease and approximately
one-in-seven will die from breast cancer," Hand says.
some people delay calling for help because they worry about being
embarrassed if their symptoms turn out to be a false alarm.
in Time" campaign isn't aimed just at people who may be at
risk for a heart attack, either. Hand says everyone needs to know
the signs of a heart attack so they can be ready to help family
members, friends and co-workers.
Hand also encourages
everyone to have a "heart attack action plan," much the
same way you make an emergency plan for a house fire.
want people to think through and talk with their family members
about what they should do if they get these symptoms and to make
sure everybody is on board with what we're asking them to do. That
is, call 9-1-1, get to the hospital right away," Hand says.
should be sure to discuss their action plans not just with family
members, but neighbors, friends, caretakers or housekeepers, the
National Council on the Aging's Whiteley says.
You can get
a free wallet card and brochure, available in English and Spanish,
that give the warning signs of a heart attack, and advice on how
to respond, by visiting the Act
To learn more
about heart attack, heart disease and risk factors, check the Mayo
Clinic, or the American
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