According the Centers for Disease Control, about 720,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year.
A new effort by the American Heart Association encourages people to seek medical attention at the first sign of a heart attack.
The non-profit says quick medical intervention after a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death.
Dr. Ziaul Hoque is a cardiologist with IU Health Arnett in Lafayette. He says many times people think they just have a bit of indigestion and take a few antacids. Other times, Hoque says, people don’t want to draw attention to themselves or upset those around them so they wait to seek medical help.
But he says when it comes to heart attacks “time is muscle.”
“Every minute we are late we are losing some more heart muscle cells,” says Hoque. “So getting intervention in a timely manner is the most important thing. It’s ok if your diagnosis is not a heart attack. Seeking early medical help is most important.”
Hoque says the most obvious sign of a heart attack is chest pain.
“Most of the time the patient is saying that it’s chest pressure,” says Hoque. “They feel like there’s an elephant sitting on their chest, some squeezing sensation on the chest. At the same time, they say that they are breaking out into sweats, they are short of breath, some people feel a sense of impending doom.”
Hoque says women and the elderly of both sexes sometimes delay treatment because they experience symptoms they may not associate with heart attack, things such as feeling profoundly weak, throat tightness, or jaw discomfort.
The “Don’t Die of Doubt” campaign encourages anyone who suspects they may be having a heart attack to call 9-1-1, as opposed to driving themselves to the hospital or Urgent Care.
Hoque says treatment begins in a timelier manner this way, because the EMT can alert the appropriate personnel at the hospital.
“But if the patient himself, or some other relative or somebody, drives the patient to the emergency department everything is slow and delayed,” says Hoque.“Then the patient waits in the emergency department until somebody comes and registers them. The whole thing can get delayed to the point where we might lose important time when significant heart muscle could have been salvaged.”
Dr. Craig Goergen is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue University.
He is helping spread the word about the “Don’t Die of Doubt” effort.
Goergen says a lot of factors play into an individual’s risk for heart attack, including increasing age, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle and genetics.
Goergen received a Scientist Development Grant from the American Heart Association for research into abdominal aortic aneurysms, which occur in the largest artery from the heart that supplies blood to rest of the body.
He says the four-year grant is to develop an imaging system which may ultimately be used by physicians to diagnosis and treat patients this type of aneurysm.
“The idea with this is that we’re hoping to understand more about how aneurysms, which is a ballooning of the artery, form,” says Goergen. “And not only just the geometry of these lesions but the compositional information, what they’re actually made of. The idea that if we can understand what’s inside of the vessel wall we’ll have a better idea of how to treat it or how different therapies are helping to prevent further development.”
Goergen says abdominal aortic aneurysms are often asymptomatic until they rupture, a condition that is life-threatening.
He says the goal of his research is to be able to determine at an earlier stage than is currently possible which patients are at greater risk of aortic rupture.
“We’re more focused on once an aneurysm has been found how can we keep it from growing,” says Goergen. “A therapy or a small molecule that can be administered to prevent expansion would really be groundbreaking in the field to reduce the risk of rupture later on.”
Of course, doctors Hoque and Goergen say the preferred game plan is to avoid heart trouble in the first place if at all possible.
They agree a combination of exercise and diet is the best way to achieve that.
Dr. Mridul Datta is an assistant professor in Purdue’s Department of Nutrition Science.
She says changes to one’s diet don’t have to take place all at once.
“It doesn’t always have to be cardboard food,” says Datta. “That’s the common perception when somebody tells you to eat healthy, that you’re going to eliminate the taste. Just simple changes in terms of selecting lower fat foods, eating less processed foods can be a very good first step.”
Datta says incorporating small changes over time into your daily eating habits is the key to long-term health.
“It’s not a diet that you go on and off,” says Datta. “We use and follow the approach of maintaining lifelong healthy eating habits. This becomes easier, it’s not as painful, and you don’t have to spend as much time focusing on what you’re eating.”
But in the event that you do find yourself wondering if you’re having a heart attack, the American Heart Association is reminding you to call 9-1-1, and Don’t Die of Doubt.