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What is a heart attack?

Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely (View an animation of blood flow). This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque. This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI). About every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

WARNING SIGNS
– Face Drooping Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

– Arm Weakness Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

– Speech Difficulty Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

– Time to call emergency If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call emergency and get them to the hospital immediately.

More about heart attack

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help.

Immediately call emergency or your emergency response number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can be sent for you. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Learn more about heart attack symptoms in women.

Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Call emergency or your emergency response number.

Calling emergency is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room.

More about stroke

Immediately call emergency or the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number so an ambulance can be sent. Also, check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. A clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may improve the chances of getting better but only if you get them help right away.

A TIA or transient ischemic attack is a “warning stroke” or “mini-stroke” that produces stroke-like symptoms. TIA symptoms usually only last a few minutes but, if left untreated, people who have TIAs have a high risk of stroke. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce the risk of a major stroke.

Beyond F.A.S.T. – Other Symptoms You Should Know

Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg
Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Sudden severe headache with no known cause

More about cardiac arrest

If these signs of cardiac arrest are present, tell someone to call emergency or your emergency response number and get an AED (if one is available) and you begin CPR immediately.

If you are alone with an adult who has these signs of cardiac arrest, call emergency and get an AED (if one is available) before you begin CPR.

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