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Faster Action Urged for Heart Attack Care

Don't Delay Getting to the Hospital, Call 911 at First Sign of Heart Attack Symptoms

WebMD Health News

June 14, 2004 -- Quick, what do you do if you have chest pain that worsens and lasts for more than five minutes?
A) Wait and do nothing, after all it could just be gas.
B) Surf the Internet to find out what's wrong.
C) Call a friend for a ride or drive yourself to the hospital.
D) None of the above.

If you answered A, B, or C, you may have just made a potentially deadly mistake. The correct answer is D, especially if you're short of breath, feel weak, nauseated, or lightheaded, and new recommendations from the nation's heart experts call for recognizing the need for speed in dealing with heart attack symptoms.

"The message that we are trying to get across to patients is this:  They need to enter the medical system much more rapidly than they are currently," says Elliot M. Antman, MD, who chaired the task force that created the new guidelines, in a news release.

Quick action not only makes the difference between life and death after a heart attack, but it may also mean the difference between disability and a normal life for survivors.

Researchers say death and disability caused by a heart attack can be greatly reduced if people recognize the following symptoms early:

  • Chest discomfort with or without pain radiating to the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Excessive sweating

While the prior recommendations were for patients to take one nitroglycerin dose, five minutes apart, for up to three doses, before calling for emergency evaluation, this recommendation has been modified to encourage earlier contacting of EMS.

The recommendations now say patients should take ONE nitroglycerin dose in response to chest discomfort/pain. If chest discomfort/pain is unimproved or worsening five minutes after taking one nitroglycerin dose, the patient or family member/friend should call 911 immediately to activate EMS.

People experiencing these symptoms should be taken to the hospital immediately by an ambulance and not by friends or relatives, which could delay access to care.

Speed Critical to Heart Attack Care

The recommendations, released today by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, outline the best way for physicians and their patients to deal with heart attacks.

Each year, an estimated 500,000 Americans suffer a severe heart attack in which the blood that supplies the heart muscle with oxygen is completely blocked. Prompt treatment is critical because if blood flow is not restored permanent damage will occur and more heart muscle is lost as time passes.

These new guidelines also endorse several public health campaigns that will help contribute to a decrease in the rates of heart attacks and the fatality associated with them. They also support additional research for new treatments for patients who suffer them.

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