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Heart Disease Health Center

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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

Speed Critical to Heart Attack Care continued...

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.

Antman says that many patients say they delay seeking treatment because they're embarrassed or "they worry that they are crying wolf" because the symptoms may be caused by indigestion or other nonheart attack conditions.

"It is not unusual for patients to wait two hours or longer before seeking treatment when they should get help as quickly as possible to minimize damage to their hearts," says Antman, who is professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Women in particular delay longer because many still adhere to a message of the past identifying men as those primarily at risk for heart attacks."

The guidelines say that disability and death from heart attacks can be reduced if the patient and bystanders can recognize symptoms early, activate the EMS system, and therefore shorten the time that it takes for the patient to receive medical treatment.

Streamlining Heart Attack Treatment and Prevention

The guidelines, which appear in the June 15 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, are designed to help doctors and other health care providers make fast decisions about heart attack treatment at all levels -- from emergency medical technicians who are first on the scene, to the cardiologists at the hospital.

They contain recommendations about care after a heart attack, such as taking an aspirin daily along with beta-blockers (drugs that help prevent dangerous irregular heartbeats), ACE inhibitors, and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, as needed.

Other recommendations include:

  • Communities should create a "chain of survival" for dealing with heart attack and cardiac arrest.
  • Family members of heart attack survivors should take CPR training and learn how to use an automated external defibrillator.
  • Health care providers should educate their patients about their heart attack risk, how to recognize symptoms of a heart attack, and developing a plan to respond to a potential heart attack.
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