What to do when a heart attack strikes

WASHINGTON — February is American Heart Month — a time for everyone to be more aware of his heart health. And that includes knowing what to do when a heart attack strikes.

“If someone is having any kind of pain in the upper torso area, any type of chest pain, any type of sweats, or feeling ill or weak, as if they are about to pass out, it is not a time to wait,” says Dr. Joel Buzy, an emergency physician at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

He says time is of the essence when a heart attack occurs, and it is important to call 911 right away.

Do not try to self-diagnose or treat the condition at home, Buzy says — and don’t try to get to the hospital on your own.

“Not a good idea,” he says, adding “by calling 911, you activate the system very early.”

It’s a system dedicated to rescuing failing or damaged hearts. From the moment paramedics or EMTs head out to answer a call, a life-saving choreography is put in motion.

Buzy says they can start an EKG — an electrocardiogram — immediately, and send data back to the team in the emergency room.

The ambulance and the hospital are in constant communication, so treatment can begin quickly, and the emergency room has all the preliminaries on hand before the patient even arrives.

This data is crucial, Buzy says.

“Time is very important during a heart attack. Every moment that a heart attack is occuring, the muscle in the heart is dying,” says Buzy.

He acknowledges some people might be hesitant to dial 911 if they are not 100 percent sure that they are indeed having a heart attack. But he says a patient who is concerned about his or her health and is having chest pain, or even just chest pressure, needs to make the call.

And he has one final caveat for those even considering driving themselves to the ER: It’s possible to have a further medical emergency while behind the wheel, putting multiple lives at risk.

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