Doctor's Notes | Published October 20, 2011 | Written by James Gerardo, MD, PhD

Why Seconds Matter If You Have a Heart Attack

In matters of the heart, every second does indeed count.

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death of men and women in the U.S., and it's a very unforgiving and often asymptomatic disease. Although the rate of deaths from heart attacks is going down nationally, there are still an overwhelming number of patients with heart disease locally.

If you even suspect you have any symptoms of a heart attack—chest pressure, tightness, jaw pain, a choking sensation, feeling dizzy, tingling in the arms or legs, stomach ache or shortness of breath—it's important to take swift action.

In fact, most people do not experience the crushing chest pain we often commonly associate with heart problems.

If you think you're having heart issues, call 911 and ask for an ambulance. The emergency medical technicians (EMTs) know what to do and what to look for in these situations. Do NOT call a friend or relative and ask them to drive you to the hospital. You may lose precious moments that could save your life.

In Centre County, EMTs carry a portable monitor that wirelessly transmits the results of an EKG to our Emergency Department. If a patient is suspected of having a heart attack, the patient will be taken directly to the Mount Nittany Medical Center's Cardiac Catheterization Lab, which is available 24/7 with a team of cardiac specialists who can assess the heart's condition for an emergency catheterization.

This procedure evaluates blood flow to the heart and uses angioplasty and stents to open up arteries if possible. Stents -- which are small, metallic mesh tubes that support the artery walls -- may be placed in the arteries to serve as scaffolding so the artery walls don't collapse after angioplasty.

The long-term effects from a heart attack are clear: once a blockage occurs, part of the heart is not getting oxygen and heart cells can die. The affected area can be permanently and irreversibly damaged, which may affect the life expectancy of the patient.

Our goal at Mount Nittany is to get the blockages open quickly—usually within 90 minutes of arrival at the Medical Center—to minimize this damage.

Time is of the essence when you are having a heart attack. I see patients nearly every day whose health and quality of life have benefited from the cardiac catheterization and intervention program at Mount Nittany Medical Center, and while we hope to treat patients before an emergency happens, we're here to help if it does.

James Gerardo, MD, Ph.D. is an interventional cardiologist with Mount Nittany Physician Group. More information on cardiology, a Mount Nittany Area of Focus, is available at www.mountnittany.org/cardiology.

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