Friday, April 20, 2007

Are YOU Savvy About Chest Pain?

I went to help a 41 year old construction worker this morning. He experienced a sudden onset of severe chest pain, and he almost passed out. His co-workers called the ambulance, and five minutes later I was checking him out. Fifteen minutes after that he was in the hospital. He'll be fine, I expect.

This event was in marked contrast to many of the chest pain calls that I respond to as an EMT. All too often the patient has had multiple episodes of chest pain that they disregarded because the pain "passed" after awhile. In other cases, like one I had the other day, patients sit around in pain for hours before admitting to themselves that they need help. Let me tell you, this behavior is not very smart. It can kill you or take years off your life.

Heart attacks are usually caused by a severe reduction in blood supply to some part of the heart muscle. The reduction occurs when an artery narrows or a clot forms or becomes lodged in it. Either way, loss of blood supply to the muscle causes the muscle to die from lack of oxygen and nutrients. This is often painful and, at this point in time, doctors don't know how to re-grow the muscle once it's dead.

The good news is that heart attacks can be treated before the muscle dies, thereby eliminating or minimizing damage to the heart. However, this treatment needs to be timely. In many hospitals, potential heart attack patients go directly from emergency to the "cath lab" where specialists get to work right away on the diagnosis and treatment options. The results are often wonderful.

Please, readers, be proactive about dealing with either yourself or whoever may be experiencing an unusual chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, or pain in the left arm or neck, perhaps accompanied by dizziness or sweating. Please don't wait to call for an ambulance - just do it. Even if you are not "sure" what is going on, call the ambulance. Heart attack symptoms vary widely, and only the hospital can tell for sure what is happening. The best rule is that if you experience an unusual feeling in your chest, call the ambulance. You don't have to be an older person. This advice applies to everyone.

I get really sad when these calls come way too late. But two of my friends listened to me talking about this matter in recent years, and they got help right away when they felt the pain. I'm happy, because we still have good times together.

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