We all experience occasional aches and pains that turn out to be harmless. But chest pain is different, and failure to take quick action can have deadly consequences. Even among people who appear to be in good health,the onset of chest pain may signal a life-threatening heart attack – an event that occurs when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked. While chest pain has many possible causes,it’s practically impossible for a victim to know whether his or her chest pain is serious or not. Getting urgent medical attention is critical to surviving a heart attack or other serious condition.
Heart disease (including heart attack) ranks at or near the top of the world’s leading killers, and it’s one of the top three causes of death among Thais, along with cancer and accidents. But while the mortality rate for heart attacks and heart disease is high, many heart attacks are survivable. The time it takes to get medical care after the onset of a heart attack is often a matter of life and death. When chest pain strikes, too many people ignore or underestimate the potentially serious consequences and wait too long to be saved. To find out what everyone needs to know about chest pain and heart attacks, Better Health spoke with Dr. Visuit Vivekapirat, a board certified cardiologist.
WHEN THE HEART ATTACKS
The term ‘heart attack’ describes an unexpected, acute event resulting from a problem with the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle. “Heart attacks usually occur when there’s an interruption in the blood flowing through the arteries to the heart,” Dr.Visuit explains. “When this happens, the heart muscle begins to suffer damage. It is very important that proper blood flow to the heart is quickly restored in order to limit the damage to the heart muscle; otherwise, the heart attack will lead to heart failure.”
The cause of a heart attack
can often be traced to coronary artery disease - the narrowing and blockage to arteries resulting from the accumulation of plaque that gradually reduces the flow of blood to the heart. The buildup of plaque can also lead to hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk of an artery rupture. When heart disease goes untreated, the arteries become more and more narrow, and the eventual result is heart failure.
“In the early stage, as plaque starts to accumulate and the arteries begin to narrow, the patient will usually not experience any related symptoms,” says Dr.Visuit. “But once the arteries have narrowed to the point where blood flow is significantly reduced, the patient may experience chest pain, especially during strenuous activities or while exercising. The chest pain occurs because the heart is forced to work harder to pump more oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.”
A heart attack
can occur at any time, and its symptoms can vary greatly from one victim to the next. The most common heart attack symptoms include;
- Increasing frequency of chest pain episodes
- Pressure or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Pain that extends beyond the chest to other areas (shoulder, arm, back, or jaw)
- Nausea and vomiting
According to Dr.Visuit, “Chest pain is a common heart attack symptom, and it is often accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, pain in the shoulder, arm or neck, and even pain that can be felt in the teeth. These symptoms typically continue for about 20 to 30 minutes. As symptoms persist without medical treatment, the damage done to the heart muscle grows more serious by the minute, and thus the need for immediate medical attention.&rd
Getting professional medical help quickly is critical to restoring proper blood flow to the heart muscle. “When blood flowing to the heart muscle is blocked,” adds Dr.Visuit, “some parts of the muscle begin to suffer permanent damage. The less damage the heart muscle suffers, the better the patient’s odds of survival.”
Not recognizing heart attack symptoms, and not wanting to overreact to a bout of chest pain are two of the most common reasons why heart attacks kill so many people. “People shouldn’t feel hesitant about seeking urgent help when they notice chest pain,” urges Dr.Visuit. “Even if the pain turns out not to be a heart attack, it’s still very important to determine whether another medical problem is present. Among all people who die from a heart attack, nearly 50 percent die within an hour of the first symptoms. Hopefully that statistic alone is enough for people to realize the importance of learning to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack.”
AT THE HOSPITAL
When a heart attack
victim arrives at the hospital, doctors have a number of effective treatment options depending on the patient’s individual situation. A patient may first be given medication, while in some cases an invasive procedure such as balloon angioplasty
may be used to restore proper blood flow to the heart. In very serious cases, doctors may have to deal with complications such as ventricular fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).
Heart attacks are serious, but they don’t have to be deadly. Recognizing the signs and symptoms, and taking quick action to get help, are key to saving someone’s life - maybe yours.
Certified Expert Heart Care
Bumrungrad International is accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI)
, the leading international hospital quality evaluator, for meeting world-class standards in the treatment of heart attacks and strokes.
These international “disease-specific” accreditations for stroke and heart attack treatment certify that patients will receive internationally-accepted standards for quality medical care in diagnosis and treatment by experienced specialists. JCI certifications give Bumrungrad patients independent assurance that the hospital does everything a hospital should to maximize their chances for survival and recovery from these two serious medical conditions.
Bumrungrad’s website features a treatment cost calculator and real examples showing costs from actual patient procedures. For more information on actual costs, log on to http://www.bumrungrad.com/realcost