Nation's Emergency Physicians: Knowing Early Warning Signs of a Heart Attack Greatly Improves Chances of Surviving One

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 - Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, killing more than 630,000 people a year. February is American Heart Month, an opportunity for the nation's emergency physicians to reiterate the importance of knowing the early warning signs of a heart attack and calling 911 or going to the emergency department once you first notice them.

"Emergency physicians save lives every day and provide quality, lifesaving care to thousands of patients each year with heart attack symptoms," said Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "But saving a life in this case must start with that patient picking up on the warning signs immediately and quickly summoning help."

First, a heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked. If a large amount of the heart muscle is injured because of this, it can weaken the heart's function as a pump, ultimately leading to heart failure and possibly death.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack? Common symptoms include:

  • Squeezing chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath or excessive sweating
  • Tightness in the chest with pain spreading to shoulders, neck, or your arm
  • Feeling of heartburn or indigestion with or without nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden dizziness or brief loss of consciousness
  • In women, the symptoms might be slightly different. They include:
  • Indigestion or gas-like pain
  • Dizziness, nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
  • Discomfort or pain between shoulder blades
  • Recurring chest discomfort
  • Anxiety or a sense of impending doom

Not all these signs occur in every case, so it's important to see a doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary. Also, keep in mind sometimes these symptoms go away and return. If you notice one or more of these signs in yourself or another person, don't hesitate. Call 911 immediately and get to a hospital emergency department.

It's important to mention that a person experiencing these symptoms should never drive themselves to a hospital. Most ambulance response times are less than 10 minutes in urban areas, and EMTs or paramedics can start treatment immediately. A person should never self diagnose themselves either. Doing this can put their lives in peril and waste extremely valuable time.

"It's not always easy for an emergency physician to properly diagnose a heart attack," said Dr. Gardner. And that's with the use of high-tech instruments and tools specifically designed to do such things. So a person should never assume anything when it comes to their health and well-being."

As always the best way to prevent heart disease is to exercise, lose excessive weight, don't smoke, avoid excessive alcohol, maintain a healthy blood pressure, control diabetes and reduce your cholesterol level.

For more information on heart disease and other health related topics, go to www.EmergencyCareForYou.org.

ACEP and MedicAlert Foundation are partnering to promote EmergencyCareforYou.org and to educate the public about medical emergencies.

MedicAlert Foundation pioneered the first medical identification and emergency medical information service in 1956 to provide people with a simple but effective method for communicating their medical conditions. Since the organization's founding, MedicAlert Foundation has provided services and products that help to protect and save lives for its 4 million members worldwide. For more than 50 years, the nonprofit foundation has relayed vital medical information on behalf of its members to emergency responders so they receive faster and safer treatment. MedicAlert IDs alert emergency personnel to a member's primary health conditions. In addition to its 24-hour emergency response service, MedicAlert Foundation also provides family and caregiver notification so that members can be reunited with their loved ones. For more information, visit www.medicalert.org.

ACEP is a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine with more than 28,000 members. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.

Monday, February 1, 2010