There are three different categories of risk factors associated with heart attacks. The major risk factors, which cannot be changed, such as age, gender and heredity; the modifiable risk factors, such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight and physical activity; and contributing risk factors, such as stress levels, diet and nutrition, and drug or alcohol abuse. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chance is of having a heart attack. But do you know what to do in the event that a heart attack were to occur?
First, Dr. Ali Ghahary says it’s important for patients to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, even if they are minor – as it is often a matter of life and death that requires immediate attention and action. While most people are under the belief that heart attacks begin with excruciating chest pain, this isn’t always the case. In fact, some heart attacks cause no symptoms whatsoever. This is known as a ‘silent’ heart attack. With a ‘silent’ heart attack, symptoms may develop slowly, with very little pain or discomfort, and whether you’re active or inactive. How severe the symptoms are depends on any other medical conditions you might be dealing with, as well as your age and gender. As mentioned in the article ‘Common Health Concerns for Women’, females often experience their first heart attack much later in life than males. During a typical heart attack, chest discomfort is a common complaint and is often described as a feeling of squeezing, fullness or pressure; it can either last for a few minutes or go away and then return. That pain can also go beyond your chest to other areas of the body, such as one arm, the back, jaw, next, and even stomach. You can also develop unexplained shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea or vomiting, anxiety, indigestion, fatigue, and light-headedness.
It’s not uncommon for someone to delay treatment if they think they aren’t having a heart attack. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, knowing what to do (and what not to do) do could save a life.
One of the first things you should do if you suspect you might be having a heart attack is to chew 2 low-dose Aspirin. During an impending heart attack, a blood clot is forming in the arteries, which can prevent blood from properly flowing to the heart. By chewing Aspirin, you reduce the clumping action of those blood platelets, and can dissolve the clot before permanent damage is done. Following that, 911 should always be called immediately. Just because you take an Aspirin doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Emergency medical service personnel, such as ambulance drivers and firefighters, are trained to know what to do in the event of a heart attack, how to treat a patient, and how to revive the patient if their heart were to stop. Any patient arriving to an emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack is often the first patient that is seen, as many hospitals operate on a severity basis. Once at the hospital, you may be sent for a series of tests including an EKG (also known as an electrocardiogram) to diagnose the heart attack, and your heart may also be monitored to check for abnormal heart rhythms. A blood test can also confirm whether or not a heart attack has occurred. Depending on the results of those tests and how you are feeling, you may be provided oxygen as well as have to take certain medications such as clot-busting drugs, more Aspirin, and nitroglycerin. You may also require a procedure known as a cardiac catheterization; this involves placing a small, flexible tube into the heart through a blood vessel (usually in the wrist or groin) to open up a blocked artery.
Your heart health is important and is something that should be taken very seriously. For more information on heart attacks and stroke, visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation website at heartandstroke.ca, or speak with your family physician.