Having a Heart Attack? Call 911

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2017

You think you or someone you're with is having a heart attack.

What should you do?

The answer from the experts: call 911.

That phone call sets in motion a process that gets a heart attack patient life-saving treatment faster and safer.

Yet people still try to get to the ER on their own. Only about half of heart attack patients arrive at Doylestown Hospital by ambulance.

"People think, 'I can get there quicker'," explains Scott Henley, Deputy Chief & Clinical Coordinator for Central Bucks Emergency Medical Services (EMS). "They also don't know all that EMS has to offer."

Heart Attack 101

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked and the heart can't get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle begins to die. Treatment of heart attack usually involves coronary angioplasty (also called cardiac catheterization), a procedure done in the hospital's cath lab that opens blocked coronary arteries. Treatment is most effective when it is given right after symptoms occur.

Learn about heart attack symptoms and how they may be different for young women.

Arriving alive

When it comes to the benefits of calling 911, let's look first at the issue of safety. For many people who think they or someone they're with might be having a heart attack, the first instinct might be to get in the car and drive to the ER. Driving someone who is having a heart attack -- especially yourself -- is not the safest bet.

What happens if the patient goes into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital? Or passes out? Or is in so much pain they can't focus on driving?

"You're no good if something happens on the way to the hospital," says Scott.

When you call 911, the ambulance is dispatched to the scene and arrives in minutes. EMS professionals do a quick assessment of the patient and take vital signs. They start an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), a painless test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. The EKG is transmitted to physicians at Doylestown Hospital. An alert is issued to get the teams in the Emergency Department and cath lab ready to receive the patient.

On the way to the hospital, the paramedic can begin treatment that might include an IV, aspirin or nitroglycerin. You can think of EMS personnel as "pre-hospital healthcare providers" in a mini-ER on wheels.

Many times when the ambulance arrives at Doylestown Hospital's Emergency Department (ED), the cardiologist is waiting for the patient. The ED physician and nurses are ready to quickly assess the patient, who is taken to the cath lab on the EMS stretcher.

The time it takes from when the patient enters the hospital to when emergency angioplasty opens the blocked artery is known as door-to-balloon time (D2B). The national standard is 90 minutes. Doylestown Hospital's average is around 51 minutes.

Door-to-balloon time is 19 minutes faster when patients arrive at Doylestown Hospital by EMS compared to walking in.

Every second counts

"The quicker the call (to 911) is made after the onset of pain, the less dead heart muscle you'll be likely to have," notes Scott.

The average time it takes for Doylestown Hospital patients to call 911 after symptoms begin is slightly more than 52 minutes. That's 10 minutes longer than the national average of 42 minutes.

So, why don't people call EMS right away? They might be in denial and downplay their symptoms, attributing the pain to acid reflux or some other condition. Even if you're not sure you're having a heart attack, it's always best to call 911 immediately. It's better to have symptoms checked out and be told you're not having a heart attack than to face the consequences of dead heart muscle.

Some people are afraid of the cost of ambulance service. EMS companies accept insurance, and even if you don't have insurance you will still receive care. Payment plans can be worked out.

Learn how to save a life

Early Heart Attack Care®, or EHAC®, is a Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care public awareness campaign that teaches the signs of an impending heart attack and emphasizes that these signs and symptoms can happen days or weeks before the actual event.

These early symptoms, or "beginnings of a heart attack," need to be recognized and treated right away to prevent the damage caused by a full-blown heart attack. Knowing the signs and acting quickly can not only save a life, but improve the quality of life.

The "Deputy Heart Attack" program includes an online educational course (both short and long versions) to teach individuals the importance of recognizing heart attack signs and acting fast. Individuals are asked to take the "EHAC Pledge" to know the symptoms of heart attack and call 911 if they or someone near them is suspected of having a heart attack.

About Doylestown Health's Heart Institute

Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. The multidisciplinary team at the Heart Institute is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.

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