Remember Red Foxx’s Fred Sanford grabbing his chest in “Sanford and Son,” staggering stiff-legged around his cluttered living room, proclaiming that “this is the big one!”?
Except, he never really was having a heart attack. It was an act — a ploy for him to comically escape whatever adversity had presented itself. And you know that it was an act because the “Hollywood heart attack” hardly ever happens.
More often, heart attacks come on slowly: You notice the chest pain — the tell-tale sign of a heart attack —perhaps accompanied by nausea, weakness or other symptoms. You write it off or wait for it to get better. Except, it doesn’t. Time has passed, and now it’s running out. You need to act if you’re going to survive.
These steps may just save your life:
Step 1. Recognize that it’s a heart attack.
Heart attacks are much slyer than Foxx’s, and they don’t present the same way. In fact, women tend to have higher mortality rates from heart attacks in part because their symptoms are so non-traditional. Be aware of any of these symptoms, from Tanner’s Health Library:
- Severe pressure, fullness, squeezing, pain or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
- Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
- Chest pain that gets worse
- Chest pain that doesn't get better with rest or by taking nitroglycerin
- Chest pain that happens along with sweating; cool, clammy skin or paleness; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; dizziness or fainting; unexplained weakness or fatigue; or rapid or irregular pulse
Step 2. Get help.
This part sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s often the greatest delay in seeking care. You don’t want to think you’re having a heart attack, so you dismiss the symptoms as a bug or indigestion. While you’re waiting to see if it gets better, you’re delaying treatment — and your heart tissue is dying, increasing the likelihood that this event can lead to disability or death.
The best way to get help isn’t to call your neighbor or jump in the car and drive yourself to the hospital — it’s to call 911. Because while heart attacks don’t always unfold like they do on TV, sudden cardiac arrest often does. Deprived of oxygen and damaged, a heart can just stop, or go into arrest. If that happens, you’re rather be in the back of an ambulance with a paramedic armed with an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock your heart back into action than behind the wheel of your own car or riding shotgun with your panicked spouse.
In addition, many ambulances in west Georgia and east Alabama are outfitted with equipment to send EKG readings ahead to the hospital. These can be evaluated by an emergency department physician who can diagnose your heart attack even before you arrive at the hospital — invaluable when considering the next step …
Step 3. Be near a hospital that can help.
Admittedly, you may not have a lot of control over this step, but it is a good time to acknowledge and be grateful for the two certified chest pain centers and two destinations for interventional cardiology that Tanner Heart Care has established in the region, in Carrollton and Villa Rica. The heart care teams at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton and Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica have met stringent training and quality requirements to earn accreditation, and both hospitals offer lifesaving interventional programs featuring angioplasty and stenting that can restore the flow of blood to the heart in minutes, relieving the discomfort from the heart attack, preserving heart tissue that could be lost for want of oxygen — and saving lives. Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton also earned distinction by receiving Healthgrades’ 2017 Interventional Coronary Excellence Award for achieving better patient outcomes than 90 percent of the nation’s hospitals.
Step 4. Commit to living a heart-healthy life.
Surviving a heart attack doesn’t stop on the catheterization lab table — it takes a lifelong commitment to put your heart first. The John and Barbara Tanner Cardiac Rehab Center at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton provides an accredited, multi-phase approach to help you regain your strength and learn how to eat better and keep your heart healthy, reducing the likelihood for future heart attacks — and the risk of doing even more damage to your heart.
Following these steps can mean more time with your friends and loved ones, more birthdays with your grandkids, more time to make the most of life. But it all starts with those first two critical steps: acknowledge that you may be having a heart attack and get help. Nothing else can happen unless you start there.
Learn more about our nationally recognized interventional cardiac care at TannerHeartCare.org.