According to statistics compiled by the American Heart Association, about 790,000 heart attacks occur each year. The numbers may seem daunting, but experts maintain that a little education can go a long way toward prevention.
Dr. Jonathan Ortiz, medical director of the emergency department at UPMC Pinnacle Carlisle, stresses the importance of being hypervigilant, especially during this time of year when heart attacks peak.
“We see a lot of it when people are shoveling snow,” said Ortiz, who likens the activity to undergoing a stress test in the doctor’s office. “They want to clear the snow, but they’ve been sedentary and now they’re tackling a labor-intensive activity. They’re getting their heart pumping, lifting snow, making piles. In doing so, they are giving themselves their own mini stress test.”
Another issue Ortiz encounters is denial. “Sometimes people don’t want to recognize that symptoms they have are heart related,” he said.
Some individuals face a higher risk for a heart attack than others, according to Ortiz.
Those who have a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or established coronary disease should be particularly mindful of any symptoms that may occur. Such symptoms may include chest pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, back and down the left arm.
Sweatiness, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and vomiting can also take place.
“We want to see patients who are experiencing these symptoms sooner, rather than later,” he said.
Ortiz advises individuals to call an ambulance at the first sign of chest pain.
“Don’t drive; don’t play around. Call your local ambulance company,” he said. “They can have a medic perform an EKG onsite to determine whether or not a patient is having a heart attack.”
Ortiz said this is a time saver when critical minutes count.
Dr. Christine Dang, emergency medicine physician with UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster and Lititz, advises against taking matters into your own hands.
“A recent and disturbing trend is an increase of patients going to urgent care locations with chest pain symptoms,” she said. “While we encourage the community to use our walk-in centers, it’s important to know that chest pain warrants immediate emergency attention.”
“Time is tissue when it comes to the possibility of a heart attack,” said Barry Albertson, director of operations of the Community Life Team at UPMC Pinnacle. “The best thing to do is call 9-1-1. The longer it takes to get to an emergency room, the more damage to the tissue of your heart.”
The American Heart Association is currently encouraging the use of a new quality measure called “first medical contact to balloon.” That is the amount of time it takes to successfully re-open a blocked artery.
Recommended parameters for completing the procedure are within a 90-minute window. UPMC bests that number by 27 minutes, with a “door-to-balloon” time of 63 minutes on average, according to the health system.
According to the association, seven key health factors and behaviors increase risks for heart disease and stroke. Those factors include smoking, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Ortiz describes smoking as particularly insidious. “It is one of the biggest perils for patients with heart disease,” he said. “We may not be able to modify age and genetics, but we can take charge of our health in other ways, from limiting fat intake, to exercising and quitting smoking.”
To learn more about how you can show your heart a little more love, visit the American Heart Association website at www.heart.org/HEARTORG.