Early Care Can Help You Survive

By Colin Fuller, MD

Heart disease causes approximately one of every four deaths in the United States, but many of those deaths could have been prevented if more people knew the early signs of a heart attack.

About 50 percent of deaths from sudden cardiac arrest occur outside a hospital, suggesting that many of the victims did not act on early warning signs. Because about 85 percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack, quickly acting on the sometimes subtle early signs can help reduce or prevent damage to the heart. In fact, while you might think that cholesterol and smoking are the greatest risk factors for a heart attack, delay in seeking medical attention is the real risk factor.

Heart attacks have beginnings that we can identify and treat. These beginnings consist of mild pressure, tightness or pain in the chest that seem to come and go. You might deceive yourself into thinking that you can just tough out this minor pain but anyone who experiences a new onset of mild pain in the center of the chest should have those symptoms checked.

Be aware of a pressure, not necessarily pain, in the chest. If it subsides when you rest but increases with activity, it could be your warning that a heart attack is on the way. Often a person will think that the sensation is not really chest pain; it is just chest pressure, a chest burning, a chest ache or a chest fullness, and it is not so bad. The best time to prevent serious damage is the time that you experience this kind of pain.

These symptoms are known as a prodromal heart attack. If we can intervene in the 50 percent of people who experience such prodromal symptoms prior to cardiac arrest, it is possible that we could reduce the incidence of heart attacks by about 400,000 per year. While not all heart attacks present as chest pain, the majority of them do. Chest pain centers have grown as communities have established heart attack care that focuses on chest pain and discomfort. The triage that these centers provide can help save patients in the early stage of a heart attack.

If you receive a heart attack warning, get medical help as soon as possible. Call 911 and go straight to the nearest hospital emergency room, especially to a hospital with an accredited chest pain center, such as Northern Nevada Medical Center. Receiving early heart attack care could save your life.

Learn more about the Heart and Vascular Institute at Northern Nevada Medical Center.