Heart attacks don't always announce themselves like they do in the movies, with someone clutching their chest, bowled over in pain.
Sometimes cardiac symptoms are more subtle and may even start slowly. Whatever the cause, chest pain is not normal and warrants medical attention right away. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a heart attack, call 911.
Know the symptoms
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
But there can be other symptoms, particularly in women.
These symptoms may include:
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
"Women may brush off the symptoms for something minor," said Thomas DiEnna, DO, of Doylestown Health's Emergency Department. "They tend to put other people first, whether it's kids or spouse or parent, before themselves."
Any kind of delay in treatment could mean a worse outcome.
When in doubt, call 911
Time is muscle, as the saying goes. The sooner a heart attack patient receives treatment, the better the outcome. That treatment can actually start before the patient arrives at the hospital.
Importance of calling 911
- EMS personnel can perform an EKG to confirm if the patient is having a heart attack.
- The EKG findings are sent to the Emergency Department at Doylestown Hospital.
- The cath lab team (that performs life-saving angioplasty) can be activated and ready when the patient arrives.
- EMS can begin treatment (by giving aspirin or nitroglycerin) and can manage arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), even performing defibrillation if the heart stops beating.
"EMS can diagnose a heart attack in your living room and the cath lab can get ready while the ambulance is en route to the hospital," said Dr. DiEnna.
What if it's not a heart attack?
People are sometimes reluctant to call 911 in case they're not actually having a heart attack. "We'd rather be able to rule out an emergency than have people not come to the ER and suffer the consequences," said Dr. DiEnna.
Chest pain can be a symptom of many disorders. A trip to the ER gives the medical team the opportunity to closely monitor the patient. "That gives them and us reassurance," Dr. DiEnna notes.
Tests done in the ER may reveal another cause for the chest pain, and the need for important follow-up care.
Accredited Chest Pain Center
Doylestown Hospital's Woodall Chest Pain Center first received accreditation from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care (SCPC), just after the new Emergency Department opened in 2010. The accreditation signifies the hospital's efficiency and effectiveness in treating heart attack and other cardiac issues that present with chest pain.