By / Health and Wellness / Monday, 02 March 2015 05:00

The statistics on heart attacks and cardiovascular disease are sobering: More than a million Americans have heart attacks each year, nearly half occurring without prior symptoms or warning signs. Unexpected and unrecognized, many heart attacks go untreated for too long as victims wait to see if symptoms will pass. The result can be devastating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur before the victim gets to the hospital. Survival depends on getting help quickly, so it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and know when to call 911.
Common Misconceptions About Heart Disease - One of the most important facts to understand about heart disease is that it can exist in people who are young and appear healthy. “The biggest misconception about heart disease is that ‘it can’t happen to me,” said Frederick “Trip” Meine, cardiologist with Cape Fear Heart Associates - NHRMC Physician Group. “But it can happen to anybody. Younger and younger people are coming in with life-threatening heart problems,” Dr. Meine said. “More than half of those who come into New Hanover Regional Medical Center with emergency heart attacks are younger than age 65. Almost a quarter are younger than 55.”
Know the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack - Not all heart attacks are preceded by intense chest pain or pressure. Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person, and women may experience different symptoms than men. Men more often experience “classic” symptoms of heart attack, including chest pain. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, dizziness or light-headedness, cold sweat or abdominal discomfort. Some women experience no chest pain at all. Other more atypical, or unusual, heart attack symptoms may include pain in the arm, back, neck, abdomen or shoulder blades; jaw pain; nausea and vomiting; or overwhelming and unusual fatigue.
“Symptoms really depend on the person,” Dr. Meine said. “It’s unpredictable, and everybody is different. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to your body and not brush off any signs or symptoms, even if you think they’re not serious. If you feel something that’s not normal for you, pick up the phone and call 911.”
The Importance of Getting Treatment Immediately - The chances of surviving a heart attack are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly. About half of those who die from heart attack do so within an hour of the start of symptoms, so knowing the warning signs and getting help immediately is critical to preventing death. Clot-busting and artery-opening medications can stop a heart attack if given within an hour of first symptoms. If you or someone you love is experiencing even minor heart attack symptoms, it’s important to call 911 right away. Emergency medical services personnel can begin treatment on the way to the hospital and are trained to revive a person whose heart has stopped. “All of our paramedics are trained to interpret EKGs in the field and to be able to determine whether the patient is having a heart attack,” said David Glendenning, EMS Education Coordinator with New Hanover Regional Medical Center. “Then we can activate the heart team at New Hanover Regional Medical Center so they’re ready to begin treatment as soon as the patient arrives.” Even if you’re not sure what you’re experiencing is a heart attack, calling 911 is the best course of action, Glendenning said. “It’s better to call and have it be nothing rather than not call and have it be something.”


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