What happens when you have a heart attack...

So, you’ve developed the crushing, pressure-like pain that causes you to sweat, feel like you want to vomit and you’ve become short of breath. You’ve also noticed you just happen to have had increasing shortness of breath while you’re walking upstairs lately and you have multiple risk factors for a heart attack (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a strong family history of heart disease) …not to mention you smoke.  Now is probably the time your wife is making you call 911 or you’ve decided to call 911 yourself.  Now these are the classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack.  It’s important to note that not everyone fits the classic signs and symptoms.  The best predictors of a heart attack based on the most recent studies suggest the following symptoms are most likely associated with you having a heart attack…


1.     chest pain associated with sweating

2.     chest pain with exertion

3.     chest pain with vomiting

4.     chest pain that goes to both your arms or to your RIGHT arm (not left as everyone thinks).


So, what happens when you dial 911?  In our catchment area (the area surrounding our hospital) when someone dials 911 with these symptoms an ambulance will be sent to your location.  Now this maybe just basic EMTs or paramedics.   Some people are not aware that there is a difference between who shows up at your house.  The paramedics have an advanced skill set that allows them to treat many ailments as soon as they meet you by providing lifesaving medicine and helping to identify the cause of your symptoms early.  In the case of a heart attack, the paramedics can diagnose this by doing a heart tracing (EKG) right at your house. 


Where I work (and across most major cities within the united states), the paramedics can then send that EKG to the emergency department or call them with the results.  This allows us as emergency room doctors to activate the catheterization team (cardiologists or heart doctors) to be ready for the patient when they arrive.  If the cardiologist or their team are at home (think 2o’clock in the morning), we are able to get their whole team assembled and on the way to the hospital.  In some heart attacks, the cardiologists will be able to take you and open up the blocked vessel that is causing your symptoms.  Did I mention that’s what a heart attack is?  When the blood is cut off from a part of your heart due to a blockage in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, that is a heart attack.  Time is muscle and the heart is unforgiving.  That means that the longer you have the symptoms, the more permanent damage can be done to your heart. 


Paramedics are able to start providing lifesaving medication right when they get to you.  They’re also able to provide breathing support and shock you out of life-threatening cardiac rhythms that can result from a heart attack.  When the patient arrives at the hospital, we are ready to take care of them.  If you have questions or comments feel free to post them here or on Facebook!  We always love feedback and/or questions/comments. All for now…Dr. Paul