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Heart Attack Emergency: Know the Signs, How to Recognize and Respond to a Heart Attack

The symptoms of heart attacks differ from one individual to another. Not all heart attacks follow the typical pattern of sudden, intense chest pain that is commonly known. Hence, it is important to know the heart attack symptoms.

Vivek Singh
Heart Attack Symptoms (Photo Courtesy: Krishi Jagran)
Heart Attack Symptoms (Photo Courtesy: Krishi Jagran)

Are you familiar with the signs of a heart attack? No? it is a critical medical emergency that demands swift action. Even mild symptoms should not be overlooked, as prompt treatment can minimize heart damage and potentially save lives.

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Heart Attack?

The symptoms of heart attacks differ from one individual to another. Not all heart attacks follow the typical pattern of sudden, intense chest pain that is commonly known. Some individuals may not experience any symptoms at all, particularly those with diabetes.

Heart attacks can have a gradual onset, characterized by mild pain and discomfort. They can occur both during periods of rest and activity. The severity of symptoms may be influenced by factors such as age, gender, and existing medical conditions.

Heart Attack Signs

Some common heart attack signs may include:

  1. A feeling of pressure, fullness, or squeezing pain in the chest that persists for several minutes or comes and goes.

  2. Pain and discomfort that radiates from the chest to other upper body areas, such as the arms, back, neck, stomach, teeth, and jaw.

  3. Unexplained shortness of breath, with or without concurrent chest discomfort.

The following symptoms may also be present during a heart attack:

  1. Cold sweats

  2. Nausea or vomiting

  3. Lightheadedness

  4. Anxiety and indigestion

  5. Unexplained fatigue

Moreover, heart attack in women is more prone than men to experience additional symptoms, such as neck, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal pain during a heart attack.

What to Do When These Symptoms Happen?

If you or someone you are with experiences chest discomfort or any other heart attack symptoms, it is crucial to call emergency numbers immediately. While your initial instinct might be to drive the person to the hospital, it is better to call for an ambulance. Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel can begin treatment on the way to the hospital and are trained to perform CPR if needed.

If you cannot reach EMS, then you may consider driving the person to the hospital. However, if you are the one experiencing the symptoms, avoid driving yourself unless it is the only option available.

Many individuals delay seeking treatment because they doubt they are having a heart attack and don't want to worry their friends and family. Remember, it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Time is of the essence in a heart attack, and acting quickly can save lives. If medical intervention, such as clot-busting medications or catheterization with a stent, is administered promptly after symptoms appear, it can stop the heart attack and potentially open a closed blood vessel. The longer the delay in treatment, the higher the risk of reduced survival and increased heart damage.

It's essential to recognize that about half of those who die from heart attacks do so within the first hour after symptoms start. Therefore, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial to improving the chances of survival and minimizing heart damage.

What Precautions to Take Before Paramedics Arrive?

  • Ensure the person remains calm and ask them to sit or lie down.

  • If the person is not allergic to aspirin, instruct them to chew and swallow a baby aspirin. (Chewing it accelerates its effectiveness compared to swallowing it whole.)

Administer CPR if You Are Trained to Do So

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a vital component of the "chain of survival," as defined by the American Heart Association. This sequence of actions is designed to give individuals experiencing a heart attack the best chance of survival.

In an emergency, the first step in the chain of survival is early access, which involves activating the EMS system by calling the designated emergency number in your community. The subsequent step is to perform CPR until a defibrillator is available.

The primary cause of death in adults experiencing a heart attack is ventricular fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm. Ventricular fibrillation can be treated through defibrillation, which involves delivering an electrical shock to the chest. Without prompt defibrillation, brain death can occur in less than 10 minutes.

To buy time until a defibrillator is accessible, one can provide artificial breathing and circulation through CPR. By combining manual chest compressions and artificial respiration, often known as "mouth-to-mouth" resuscitation, the rescuer can breathe for the individual in need and help circulate blood throughout their body. Even "hands-only" CPR, without mouth-to-mouth respiration, can be highly effective.

Administering CPR promptly to someone experiencing cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing, no heartbeat) significantly increases the chances of successful resuscitation. CPR ensures a continuous flow of oxygenated blood to the heart and brain until a defibrillator becomes available.

Since the majority of cardiac arrests occur at home, it is probable that you may need to perform CPR on a family member or loved one. CPR is not difficult to learn, and various organizations, such as the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, local community centers, health clubs, and YMCAs, offer courses to teach this life-saving skill.

Be Prepared for a Heart Attack

While no one anticipates experiencing a heart attack, it is essential to be prepared. Here are some proactive steps you can take before symptoms arise:

  • Familiarize yourself with the list of heart attack symptoms and warning signs.

  • Keep in mind the critical time frame of calling the emergency number within 5 minutes of symptom onset.

  • Educate your family and friends about the warning signs and emphasize the importance of immediately calling the emergency number.

  • Understand your risk factors and take necessary measures to mitigate them.

  • Develop a heart attack survival plan that includes details about your medications, allergies, your doctor's contact information, and emergency contacts. Carry this information in your wallet.

  • Make arrangements for someone to care for your dependents in case of an emergency.

  • Consider learning CPR to be prepared to administer it to a loved one if needed.

Recognizing heart attack symptoms and responding promptly is vital for saving lives. Symptoms can vary and may not always be the typical chest pain. Seeking immediate medical attention can reduce heart damage and increase survival chances. Calling for emergency assistance and knowing CPR are crucial steps in the "chain of survival." Being prepared involves understanding risk factors, having a survival plan, and discussing warning signs with family and friends to improve chances of receiving timely medical care and positive outcomes in case of a heart attack.

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