By: Wayne Batchelor, MD
Approximately 50 percent of heart attack patients do not call emergency services (EMS) or reach the hospital by ambulance. Why do so many take a risk with something so important?
Perhaps we have all watched too many television shows that depict a heart attack as a very dramatic scene, when in reality this is not always the case. Some individuals perceive their chest pain as mild or moderate, resulting in decreased EMS use.
Patients who put off calling EMS often do not realize the benefits of rapid action and may not be aware of the available therapies for heart attack. At other times, patients attempt to treat their chest pain at home with over-the-counter medications, hoping this will solve the problem. Some women also believe they are not at risk for a heart attack.
Without realizing it, these individuals are gambling with their lives—no one should take chances with chest pain. There is a substantial advantage to calling 911. Paramedics are highly skilled and trained to do EKGs, administer lifesaving medications and treatments, and can call the hospital ahead of time to report their findings.
Studies have shown that there is a significant association between ambulance arrival and earlier delivery of therapy to treat a heart attack. Not only that, but, when driven by private vehicle to an emergency center, 1 out of 300 chest pain patients suffer from a cardiac arrest on the way.
Recognizing the early warning signs of a heart attack and contacting EMS immediately are critical to ensuring the best possible outcome. According to the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, early warning signs of a heart attack include the following:
Shortness of Breath without Exertion. While shortness of breath while exercising or exerting oneself is normal for most people, difficulty breathing during routine activities can signify a problem.
Heartburn. When heartburn or a burning sensation in the chest follows a spicy meal, the cause is usually pretty obvious. However, if the feeling becomes chronic and you are regularly turning to over-the-counter antacids, the symptoms may point to an impending heart attack.
Discomfort or Pain. It seems heart pain would mainly occur in the area of the heart, but many people experience discomfort in other areas of the body, from a crushing or squeezing pressure in the chest to surging pain in the shoulders, neck, or jaw. Always seek immediate medical attention if you experience this type of pain, even if the symptoms disappear or are only intermittent.
A Feeling of Impending Doom. Some patients report a feeling of anxiety and fear prior to a heart attack. Although certainly attributable to other matters, this feeling can still be an early warning sign, especially if it presents with any of the other indicators listed above.