Early Heart Attack Care

Learn how to anticipate, react and help prevent

Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack and one of the most common reasons people go to the emergency room. Each year more than 1 million Americans have a heart attack, and nearly half of those are fatal. Emergency room physicians will tell you that for a heart attack to be treated effectively, the treatments must start within 30 minutes from when the symptoms start. Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center encourages everyone to get informed on heart attack care and prevention, for your sake and the sake of your loved ones. 

Early heart attack symptoms 

Not every heart attack displays the same symptoms as those we may see on the many medical TV shows we are exposed to daily. In fact, many people ignore the early signs of a heart attack, simply dismissing the more subtle symptoms because they expect the drama associated with a Hollywood episode. Unfortunately, when these early signs are ignored, we miss a "window of opportunity" to prevent the attack before any heart damage can occur. The following signs and symptoms are ones to be aware of in yourself or in your family members: 

  • Shortness of breath without exertion. Although most of us experience shortness of breath when we are exercising or expending energy outside of what we do normally, difficulty breathing when performing normal activities is an early sign that should be investigated.
  • Heartburn. The sensation of heartburn or a burning in the chest can be mapped to spicy food and quickly discarded. This sensation can also be an early sign of a heart attack, especially if the condition becomes chronic. If you find yourself taking over-the-counter antacids on a regular basis, the underlying cause of your trouble needs to be discussed with your doctor.
  • Discomfort or pain. Although we think of heart pain as occurring in the area of the heart, for some individuals this is not the case. People who have suffered a heart attack have described their early symptoms everywhere from crushing to squeezing to pressure occurring in the chest and even other areas of the body. Shoulders, neck and jaw are areas reportedly affected prior to a heart attack. Always seek immediate attention if you are experiencing this type of pain, even if the symptoms disappear or are only intermittent.
  • A feeling of impending doom. Some patients describe a feeling of anxiety and fear prior to the occurrence of a heart attack. Although not usually thought of as an early symptom, and certainly attributable to other matters, this "feeling" can still be an early indicator, especially when combined with any of the other symptoms listed above. 

Don't Wait. Call 911 

It is critical for those who experience any chest discomfort or pain to quickly get to the emergency department to be evaluated. It's not the heart attack itself that kills; it is also the time wasted when one is trying to decide whether or not to go to the hospital. 

Why Call 911? 

More than 50 percent of all patients experiencing chest pain walk into the emergency room rather than calling 911. But calling 911 starts treatment earlier. 

  • 911 dispatchers are often trained to locate you quickly and assist you in early treatment options.
  • In many areas, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can diagnose a heart attack by using an electrocardiogram (ECG) and also initiate early treatment.
  • Arriving by ambulance helps to ensure that you will not wait to be seen by a physician. Many patients who experience chest pain drive themselves, only to find that they may wait in the lobby until they can see a doctor.
  • EMS can radio ahead to the emergency department that you are on your way. This enables the emergency department staff to be ready for you when you arrive.  

Heart attack treatments 

The main heart attack treatments are thrombolytic or clot-busting drugs, aspirin, nitrates and beta blockers. Aspirin is now given to all patients who arrive at the hospital with a suspected heart attack because it helps thin the blood and reduce the size of the clot blocking one of the blood vessels in the heart. 

There are a number of special procedures available that doctors can use to treat heart attacks. Coronary angioplasty uses a very small catheter that is threaded through an artery (usually from the groin area) into the narrowed artery. At the end of the catheter is a tiny balloon that is opened and closed in the narrowed area to stretch it out. Doctors also can insert a tiny mesh tube called a stent to help keep the artery open. 

For blocked arteries, doctors may need to perform a bypass. In a coronary artery bypass graft operation, doctors take a healthy section of artery and use it to route around the blockage.