Being Heart Smart Just Makes Sense

Knowing the early warning signs of an attack can greatly increase survival, group says

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SUNDAY, Feb. 15, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Knowing all the warning signs of a heart attack greatly increases the chances of surviving one, says the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

"Everyone knows that a heart attack can start with severe chest pains. But early signs can also include shortness of breath, unexplained weakness or palpitations," Dr. Nick Jouriles, ACEP president, said in a news release from the organization.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and both men and women are vulnerable. Using February's designation as National Heart Month as a backdrop, the organization issued a reminder of the importance for people to be clear about heart attack symptoms. They can include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness or a squeezing sensation in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Chest discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms or back.
  • Chest discomfort associated with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

People who experience one or more of these signs should immediately call 911. And ACEP advises that 911 be called even if you're unsure of the symptoms because it's better to be safe and seek medical attention.

ACEP and the American Heart Association also recommend the use of aspirin in people who may be having a heart attack. Chewing or crushing and swallowing a regular aspirin tablet has been shown to slow the development of a blood clot and reduce the risk of death.

But taking an aspiring cannot unclog a blocked artery during a heart attack, so people who've taken an aspirin should not wait to see if their symptoms get better before they call 911. They still must seek immediate medical attention, ACEP said.

The organization also offered a number of steps that can be taken to prevent a heart attack:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Lose excess weight, get regular exercise, eat a low cholesterol diet and take cholesterol-lowering medications, if a doctor determines they would be helpful.
  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure, control diabetes and don't drink too much alcohol.
  • Get regular checkups.

These measures are especially important for anyone who has a family history of heart disease.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about heart attack.

SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, news release, Feb. 3, 2009

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