Serious as a Heart Attack, so learn the Symptoms!

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November 3, 2008

I am sure that lots of you will remember Redd Foxx as Fred Stanford, the lovable Junk man that always tried to get out of trouble by clutching his chest and saying "I am coming to meet you Ethel. This is the big one!". Heart attacks are one of the biggest causes of death in the U.S. While I am not going to debate what you can do to prevent them (you know good diet and exercise, quit smoking, lose weight and all that!), I want to discuss today how to know one when you see one, because, if you recognize the symptoms early enough, the "Big One" can be treated.

A heart attack, otherwise known as a Acute Myocardial Infraction (AMI), is where an artery that supplies blood to the heart becomes blocked and causes part of the muscle of the heart to die. Often the heart muscle gives warning that the blockage is about to happen. We call this warning "Chest Pain". So if you begin to have SHORT periods of chest pain, take it as a warning and see your doctor. Some people report that they thought the chest pain was indigestion and so they were not worried. But they report they had it several times for several days before they had an AMI. In fact, most men report that, when they finally had the AMI, they had chest pain for an hour before they called for help. Another interesting fact is that most men start to die about an hour after the symptoms of a heart attack begin! This means that Denial just isn’t the name of a river in Egypt! Call for help before it is too late. By the way, women call for help much sooner and more of them survive due to that reason. So, if you think you, your spouse or your camping buddy is having a heart attack, don’t think you can wait for a few hours "to be sure".

While a partial list of symptoms of AMI begins with Chest pain, described as crushing or heavy or tight, and often includes nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, sweating, "clammy skin" often grey in color, numbness and/or tingling down the arms especially the Left one, pain in the neck or jaw, pain between the shoulder blades and often diarrhea. The patient will appear ill often with blue lips and fingernail beds and almost waxy-looking skin with sweat pouring off of them. Now this describes a patient with very advanced symptoms. This is the key, get help before things get this bad. It is advised to call for help if you have chest pain for longer that 10 to 20 minutes if you have never had heart problems and no longer than 10 minutes if you have ever had problems. And when I say call for help, your wife or friend (contrary to my father’s belief) or trying to drive yourself isn’t the thing to do. Please call 911.

Now, what can you do while waiting for the ambulance? If you are a heart patient, you should have Nitroglycerin or similar and know how to use it, following your doctors directions and, if you did, don’t think that if he told you to take 3 doses before you called 911 then another 5 or 6 doses before the ambulance can get there is going to be better. If you are not a heart patient, don’t borrow someone else’s medications and try them. What I would do if it were I having the heart attack? Well, if you are not allergic, you can chew 4 baby aspirin, that is about 1regular aspirin (325 mg either way), but not many can stand to chew a regular aspirin. If you are on oxygen, turn it up. We have a saying in EMS, that is, pink is good; blue is bad. Oxygen makes you pink, and it is really hard to overdose on oxygen in the short run. Loosen restrictive clothing and lay down. Try to relax and do not eat or drink anything.

If you have taken any sort of Viagra or Cialis or Levetria within the last 72 hours, TELL THE PARAMEDIC IMMEDIATELY WHEN HE/SHE ARRIVES. One of the first drugs the paramedic will often want to give you is Nitroglycerin which does not mix with these drugs. They may still give them to you if it has been less than 72 hours but they really, really need to know if you have taken them. Paramedics don’t want to pry into your sex life, really we don’t care; but we do need to know, and it is something that is often forgotten when doing a history because these drugs haven’t had wide spread usage until recently. By the way, we as paramedics don’t care if you are wearing old clothes and have been camping for three days and smell like wood smoke, in fact some of us go camping too, so honest we understand.

Now the paramedic once he gets to you,is going to hook you up to more wires and IV tubes and oxygen tubes than you think anyone will need. He is going to be looking at EKG’s and other machines and pulling out drugs and asking you questions a mile a minute if he thinks you are in bad shape. Try to stay relaxed and, if you don’t understand, ASK THEM what is going on! A good medic understands a good patient is an informed patient! The paramedic is trying to stop or at least slow the heart attack so they can get you to definitive care (usually a heart Cath Center).

The good news is that if the paramedics are called early they can often stabilize you and get you to were you need to be and minimize any injury or damage to the Heart, so that you can be out there camping for may years to come. If this article makes one person seek proper care in time, it will have been worth it to me.

Your Obedient Servant,

Gary Smith, Jr.

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  3. Jerry Shea

    Great article Gary. Just need to add one more thing. The very best way for anyone over 50 to really keep from having a heart attack is to go to a doctor NOW and ask for a cardiac workup and stress test. If the results come out that you have a problem (in the making – which no one can ever feel) they can start treatment today to keep you from having a heart attack tomorrow (years from now really). If the results come out that you have a great healthy heart then you can plan on many years quality life ahead of you. Here is the catch. The majority of people that get a cardiac workup/stress test now are already living a very healthy life style. The people that do not get a stress test (usually smokers, over weight, non active, etc) are the ones down the line that do have a heart attack. You can put your money on it.

    Jerry Shea
    12 years as a Cardiac Technician