Many die before getting to the hospital, in part because they deny that the symptoms are coming from their hearts. The average person waits four hours before getting medical care. Once in the hospital, major centers like the Heart Hospital where I work treat the patient with an angioplasty with a delay of less than 90 minutes.
Every minute of delay once a heart attack begins means more heart muscle lost. If we get patients within an hour or two after the symptoms start, they can escape with no or little damage.
The characteristic symptoms of a heart attack are pressure, squeezing, aching or burning discomfort (or even indigestion) usually in the center of the chest that may radiate to the arms, neck or jaw or be principally in those locations. Often sweating, shortness of breath or profound fatigue can accompany the symptoms. Women in particular may have no pain at all but instead note new and sudden shortness of breath or profound fatigue.
Sudden cardiac arrest can also occur without a heart attack and happens 300,000 times a year in the U.S. SCA, regardless of the trigger, is usually due to a sudden rhythm disturbance called ventricular fibrillation that immediately stops the heart from pumping blood. The only treatment is immediate CPR and a shock to the heart with a defibrillator. Out of the 300,000 SCA in the U.S., fewer than 5 percent to 7 percent survive.
Project Heart Start is a program of the New Mexico Heart Institute Foundation and KOAT-TV dedicated to changing that miserable outlook. We are teaching every capable person in the state to save the life of a SCA victim and to recognize and get early treatment of a heart attack.