How to Recognize the Signs of a Heart Attack

The thought of having a heart attack is frightening. As it should be. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death in this country. Regrettably, over a million individuals suffer a heart attack each year. Some of these people die, but others survive to live long, productive and satisfying lives.

When a person suffers a heart attack, the difference between life and death often depends upon whether or not that individual receives prompt medical care. It is crucial that a heart attack victim be transported to an appropriate emergency health care facility as quickly as possible. Finding the fastest means of transportation is essential, whether this entails calling 911 and waiting for an ambulance or having someone drive the individual to the closest hospital.

Understanding what happens during a heart attack can help to make the process clearer and, perhaps, easier to identify. A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked off, damaging the heart muscle itself and cutting off the oxygen supply to the body's cells and tissues. Such obstructions are often caused by blood clots that have formed in a coronary artery which has become narrowed as a result of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

Because heart attacks often happen without much warning, it is important to be aware of the symptoms that signal an attack. The experience often includes a tightening or squeezing in the chest or upper abdomen area which is usually accompanied by pain. The pain may spread to the left shoulder and down the arm as well as to the back and/or jaw. The sufferer may feel quite lightheaded or dizzy. Nausea and shortness of breath may also occur. Although these symptoms can easily be confused with the discomforts of heartburn or muscle strain, they are much more threatening and must be given the proper attention. If these symptoms last longer than several minutes, a trip to the hospital is advisable. Even if the source of the trouble ends up having nothing to do with the heart, the discomfort may be a sign of some other ailment that requires medical attention.

There are many medical treatments used by health care providers to treat heart attack patients. Some of these are most effective when administered immediately. Others are given after the patient has been stabilized. Common treatments for heart disease include medications and/or surgery, as well as the use of special diets and changes in lifestyle. Implementing changes in lifestyle can make a world of difference to the heart attack victim, even improving health and well-being beyond that experienced prior to the attack. Some of the steps in turning around the health of a heart attack patient include treating high blood pressure, lowering blood cholesterol, adopting a low-fat, low-salt and low-cholesterol diet and instituting a supervised exercise program.

A heart attack may be frightening, but it may also be survivable. Knowing the symptoms and responding to them properly can save a life.

Lowell General Hospital, 295 Varnum Avenue, Lowell, Massachusetts 01854, Main Telephone: (978) 937-6000
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