Keys To Survival: Overcoming A Heart Attack or Preventing One

Someone in the U.S. has a heart attack nearly every 34 seconds. Knowing the signs of a heart attack saves lives. Plus, you can take steps to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and free of heart disease. Here are five survival strategies you need to know.


SITUATION: YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE HAVING A HEART ATTACK.
Survival strategy: Call 911. During a heart attack, the blood supply to the heart is interrupted by a blockage in one of the arteries, explains David C. Goff Jr., M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Working Group for the Public Health Action Plan to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke. When the heart muscle isn’t getting blood, it’s also not getting oxygen, and it begins to die. That’s why it’s important to get care as soon as possible. “Call 911,” he says. “And don’t wait more than 15 minutes. People think if they keep waiting, it will pass … but it’s much better to overreact than underreact.”

Once you’re at the hospital, doctors can open the blockage two ways. The first uses clot-busting drugs, which are given intravenously. “They are most effective within 90 minutes of the onset of symptoms,” Goff says. “The longer you wait,” adds Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack, “the greater the area of the heart muscle that dies; the less likely you are to survive.” The other treatment option is a surgical procedure called angioplasty during which the cardiologist inserts a catheter into the artery and inflates a tiny balloon to widen the artery.


During a heart attack, time saved is heart muscle saved. In fact, any delays in providing timely care can impact the heart’s ability to recover from a cardiac event. LifeNet will help close the gap between the damage potentially caused by a heart attack and a patient’s arrival at Gwinnett Medical Center.


SITUATION: YOU THINK YOUR CO-WORKER MIGHT BE HAVING A HEART ATTACK.
Survival strategy: Know the signs, and act fast. You might think you know what a heart attack looks like. “People tend to think of the things they see on TV, which are very mdramatic,” Goff says. “That happens, but oftentimes, it’s much more subtle— pressure in the chest or discomfort in the jaw.” Hills suggests an acronym—LIFE—to remember the symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Left—pain in the left shoulder, left arm, left jaw or left side of the back
  • Indigestion or nausea, which is rare for men, but more common in women
  • Fatigue
  • Exertion—shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
If you observe these symptoms and think someone is having a heart attack, call 911. “My mantra is: When in doubt, check it out,” Brill says. “Otherwise, it could be too late.”

SITUATION: YOU HAVEN’T HAD A HEART ATTACK BUT THINK YOU MIGHT BE AT RISK.
Survival strategy: Make lifestyle changes. “We believe that 75 to 80 percent of heart attacks in the United States today are preventable through lifestyle change, through good control of risk factors and through medications,” Goff says. The most important lifestyle change is to quit smoking.

In addition, Goff says, eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in fatty meat products and sodium. Get about 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, and keep your body mass index (BMI) under 25, he explains. Brill notes that you can’t do anything about some risk factors—like getting older or your family history—but she, too, argues that simple, everyday changes make a difference.

Goff explains that while you can’t eliminate stress from your life, you can adjust how you react to it. “Some people respond to stress in positive ways,” he says. “They go running. Or they meditate or pray or listen to music.” Those who drink heavily or smoke cigarettes to cope with stress, or release their stress through anger, are harming their health.

SITUATION: YOU’VE SURVIVED A HEART ATTACK.
Survival strategy: Take rehabilitation seriously. For people who survive a heart attack, what happens next is important, Goff says. “For most people, that should include a formal cardiac rehabilitation program, which includes monitored physical activity to help the person get back into good physical condition,” he says. Depending on the person’s needs, the program should also focus on lifestyle factors. He adds that medications, such as those that lower cholesterol or blood pressure, may be given.

SITUATION: YOU’RE YOUNG AND THINK YOU’RE IMMUNE TO HEART ATTACKS.
Survival strategy: Think again. And study up. Heart disease can start at a young age and catch up with you quickly. “The first thing you can do is to take charge of your own health,” Brill says. “Know your numbers, and do what it takes to manage these numbers.” Because high cholesterol and high blood pressure are significant risk factors for heart disease, it’s important to have your levels tested. If they are high, your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes to get these numbers under control or prescribe medications. It’s also important to know your weight and make sure you keep it in a healthy range.

Learn about common heart conditions and how to manage them with our Cardiac Patient Education Library.





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