Sunday, October 28, 2007

Heart Check

Recently my father had a mild heart attack and bypass surgery. I just flew back from the hospital on Monday. My mother-in law had bypass surgery two years ago, my father’s recent heart attack and surgery have brought the issue of health back to top of my mind. Because my father has done a lot over the past ten years or so to improve his health, eating way better than most of us and being pretty active for his age I have come to realize that our health is something that we all need to pay more attention to.

One of the biggest surprises for me was that my father didn’t experience the pain that I assumed went with a heart attack. He had a strange feeling in his shoulders and around his chest, but this was something that a lot of people would probably ignore because they didn’t realize it was a heart attack. He thought to go the hospital because about 10 years ago he went to the hospital and had to have a couple of stints put in.

From the American Heart Association, this page describes the signs to look for, they include:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest lasting for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. This discomfort can include pressure, squeezing, or pain.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can include discomfort or pain in either of the arms, neck, stomach, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath. While this often accompanies chest discomfort or pain, it can occur prior to the chest discomfort or pain.
  • Other symptoms. These can include: nausea, breaking out in a cold-sweat, or light-headedness (dizziness).

In order to best survive a heart attack you and your family should follow this advice from the American Heart Association and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Tips for surviving a heart attack include:

  • Uncertainty is normal. Television and movies have shown us people clutching the chests as the double over in pain, but because the symptoms can vary (even with people that have had heart attacks before) people tend to take a wait and see attitude, which can have very serious consequences. You should learn to recognize the warning signs.
  • Act quickly. Because most people don’t realize that the have had a heart attack, they delay in taking the necessary actions. It is this delay and not delay of medical transport or treatment by medical personnel that causes the greatest delay in getting proper treatment. According to the American Heart Association, most patients wait two hours or more after the symptoms occur to get treatment. People’s wait and see reaction comes from:
    • The uncertainty that people have is largely due to them not realizing that they had a heart attack, often they believe it is something else.
    • They’re afraid or unwilling to believe or admit to themselves that their symptoms could be serious
    • They don’t want the embarrassment that would go with finding out that they didn’t have a heart attack
    • They don’t understand how important it is to get proper treatment right away. If dealt with right away, the effects can be minimized and the damage the heart can be lessened. Women, the elderly, and minorities are more likely to delay seeking treatment.
  • Call your emergency phone number right away! In the U.S. this is 911, but you need to know the phone number in your area. Calling for Emergency Medical Service is the best way to get to the hospital because:
    • Medical personnel can begin treatment immediately on the way to the hospital
    • If the heart stops (called sudden cardiac arrest) on the way, they’re trained in how to handle this.
    • Patients arriving in ambulances often receive treatment faster than those that don’t use ambulances. If you’re having problems getting an ambulance, you should have someone drive you, only drive yourself as a last resort.
  • Contacting emergency medical personnel via your emergency phone number is like bringing the hospital to your home because:

o Emergency medical personnel are trained to determine how to handle the situation based on your vital signs and can administer care.

o In many areas the medical team is able to call the hospital that you’re going to so that the hospital is ready when you arrive.

o They carry medication and equipment to help treat your condition on the ambulance, so you have a better chance to making it to the hospital.

  • Plan Ahead. By planning now, you can save time and could help save your life! You’ll want to:
    • Get to know the warning signs and teach your family, so that action can be taken when necessary.
    • Think through what you would do under different circumstances; home, work, at night, or other places that might require some preparation.
    • Make arrangements about who would care for your kids (and other dependents), medical personnel will contact someone so that arrangements can be made for your kids (and other dependants).
    • Talk to your friends and family about the warning signs, what to do in the event that you have a heart attach, and so on, so that they’re prepared in such an event.
    • Talk to your doctor (and health care provider) about what you can do to prevent a heart attack and reduce the risk of one occurring.
    • Talk to your doctor about what to do if you do experience a heart attack and/or symptoms.
    • Prepare information that you’ll need to take to the hospital. You should complete the preparing for a heart attack survival plan. You should keep copies in handy places like your wallet or purse.
If you have questions about what your medical provider will cover in the event of a heart attack, you’ll want to look into this upfront

So while you and your family should probably make some life style changes including eating a healthier diet, and exercise, knowing the warning signs, and being prepared to act quickly can mean the difference of life and death.

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