It’s Just My Back… It CAN’T Be My Heart!
Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m in great shape for my age!” Or how about, “For the amount I exercise, I’ll live forever!” Well, I hope you are right and you have MANY great quality years watching your family grow and prosper ahead of you. The problem is there are NO guarantees!
Did you know that a person somewhere in the United States (US) has a heart attack EVERY 34 seconds? To complicate matters, heart attack symptoms can present as back pain, especially among females. That’s why our first actions when a heart attack occurs can make or break the outcome!
Over the last ten years, there has been about a 40% reduction in deaths associated with heart attacks because of a shortened time span between symptom onset and getting to the ER (< 1 hr). Unfortunately, another 40%, or about 120,000 people per year, NEVER even make it to the hospital because they didn’t seek help in time.
The tendency is to “stick our head in the sand” and sit at home taking antacids for indigestion or simply talk ourselves out of going to the ER. Here are ways to “survive your heart attack:”
1) KNOW THE SYMPTOMS: When oxygen does not reach the heart muscle wall (usually due to a clot blocking blood flow), “classic signs” include CHEST PAIN, arm pain (the left arm more than the right), back pain, shoulder pain (left side more likely), neck or jaw pain, stomach pain, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms often include sweating, nausea, and/or vomiting.
However, up to 33% of those who have a heart attack DON’T have “classic” symptoms. These folks tend to be female, older, and/or diabetic. The elderly are commonly “atypical” as they often experience confusion, labored breathing, and/or a feeling of light headedness or fainting. Symptoms can arise gradually and they can also come and go. This process can go on for days or weeks! One interesting study reported that victims between ages 32 to 74 who had a heart attack were more likely to have visited their doctor in the week prior to the heart attack (so even doctors can “miss it”)! KEY POINT: Don’t ignore unusual symptoms!
2) CALL 911 (OR WHATEVER NUMBER IS USED FOR MEDICAL EMERGENCIES IF YOU’RE OUTSIDE OF THE US): If you can get to the ER within an hour, your chances for survival with less heart muscle damage (meaning a higher quality of life) improve dramatically. Tell a spouse, friend, or neighbor you’re “not feeling right and it might be my heart”, as often they are the one who call the paramedics.
3) TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION: Even before the EMTs arrive, the American Heart Association recommends chewing and swallowing a regular, uncoated 325mg aspirin (not baby aspirin). This will thin the blood and help reduce the blood clotting affect often associated with heart attacks. This usually does NOT stop the heart attack, but it can reduce the damage to the heart muscle. If you are not comfortable taking an aspirin, use an anti-coagulant herb such as parsley, pineapple, papaya, willow, and/or garlic that can help thin the blood. Make sure your front door is unlocked so emergency services can easily get to you. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE HOSPITAL.
4) BE READY: Give the EMTs your medication list (especially if Viagra is on it, as you cannot be given nitroglycerin due to a possible serious drug interaction). If you’re a woman and the paramedics are struggling, it’s OK to say, “…I think I’m having a heart attack” to get them on track!
5) BE ASSERTIVE: Studies show that those who are persistent about concern for a heart attack vs. being shy, quiet, or in denial get more prompt attention by both EMTs and ER personnel.