Recognizing the Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and knowing what to do if someone is suffering from one can greatly improve their chances of survival before medical professionals arrive at the scene. As a first responder, acting quickly and knowing when to call emergency services and perform CPR can save a person’s life.

A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage of blood flow to the heart. It often occurs from a blood clot in the coronary artery, and therefore, is a problem associated with a lack of blood circulation. If the blockage is not treated in time, the heart is deprived of oxygen-rich blood and the heart muscles begin to die.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Symptoms of a heart attack can occur gradually and span over hours, days, or even weeks. But they can also occur suddenly. It is important to point out that symptoms are different for men and women.

Men most often experience the classic symptoms of pain in the chest and numbness in the arm during a heart attack.

Women, however, more often experience pain that spreads to the jaw and shoulder areas in addition to nausea and/or vomiting, cold sweats, weakness, or light-headedness.

Additional symptoms of a heart attack include difficulty breathing, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Particularly, if the symptoms are slow to occur, a person suffering from a heart attack may ignore the symptoms. Seeking treatment sooner rather than later significantly increases a person’s chance of surviving.

Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest

A heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same. Cardiac arrest occurs when the entire heart suddenly stops beating because of an electrical malfunction. Once the hearts stops pumping, oxygen-rich blood is no longer reaching the body’s organs.

A person suffering from cardiac arrest will suddenly become unresponsive or unconscious, stop breathing, and lose their pulse. They must receive immediate medical treatment or else risk dying.

What to do if someone is experiencing a heart attack

The first and most important thing to do is call an emergency response number if you suspect someone is suffering from a heart attack. Thailand’s Emergency Medical Services can be reached by dialing 1669 anywhere in the country. If you are close to Bumrungrad International Hospital, the Emergency Center can be reached by calling +66 (0) 2667 2999.

Before paramedics arrive at the scene, keep the person calm, loosen any tight clothing, and have them lie down. If they are not allergic to aspirin, have them chew and swallow an aspirin. Chewing the pill will allow it to work much faster than swallowing the pill whole. If the person stops breathing, perform CPR.

When the emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene, they will properly situate the patient in the emergency vehicle and begin administering oxygen and a blood thinning medication during the trip to the hospital. This preliminary treatment in the emergency vehicle saves time and reduces additional damage to the heart’s muscles.

If the patient’s condition is evaluated and diagnosed with a heart attack, doctors will choose from several treatments that vary based on the severity of the patient’s health condition. The sooner treatment is received, the better it is for the heart muscle and for the prognosis of the patient. The best treatment is to open the blocked artery by using an emergency balloon dilation through a catheter (primary PTCA). Some options include being administered medication that dissolves blood clots or prevents blood from coagulating. Other options include having surgery that relieves a blockage, widens a narrow artery, or completely bypasses a blocked artery. All options increase blood flow to the once blocked heart.

A heart attack can happen anywhere and anytime. Knowing what to do during the first few minutes can make all the difference in survival.

By Dr. Sureerat Panyarachun, Cardiologist, Heart Center, Bumrungrad Hospital

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