It’s dramatic when someone has a heart attack on television or in the movies. But in real life, symptoms can be more subtle and difficult to identify. And because heart attack and angina symptoms are so similar, it may be hard to tell what's going on.
But knowing the differences -- and the reasons behind them -- can result in seeking treatment sooner, and living longer.
Sudden cardiac arrest can be reversed if treated within the first few minutes. The American Heart Association promotes these four steps, called ''the chain of survival:"
Early Access to Care. Quick contact with emergency care is essential. Call 911 (in most communities) or your local emergency number immediately.
Early Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Learning CPR is the greatest gift you can give your family and friends. If performed properly (see below), CPR can help save a life until emergency medical help arrives.
Early Defibrillation. In most adults, sudden cardiac death is related to ventricular fibrillation. Quick defibrillation (delivery of an electrical shock) is necessary to return the heart rhythm to a normal heartbeat. Many public places -- such as malls, golf courses, and airports -- have automated external defibrillators (AEDs; see below) available for use in emergency situations.
Early Advanced Care. After successful defibrillation, most patients require hospital care to treat and prevent future events.
These four steps can increase survival as much as 90% if initiated within the first minutes after sudden cardiac arrest. Survival decreases by about 10% each minute longer.