Is this the big one? Are you really having a heart attack? Or could that nagging chest pain be just a bad case of indigestion after scarfing down those diner onion rings? How can you tell if you’re in cardiac arrest or just in need of an antacid? Good questions. We spoke to Dr. Mark Bergman, Cardiologist for the heart attack 411 and when it’s time to call 911.
What does it feel like to actually have a heart attack?
Everyone is different. But the classic symptoms to watch out for start with pressure in the mid-lower chest area. Pain can also radiate into your left shoulder and travel to the left side of your jaw. Sometimes you’ll have nausea and sweats. And yes, heartburn after a big meal can be confused for a heart attack.
If you’re experiencing those symptoms how long should you wait before calling 911? And is there anything you can do to help the situation while waiting for help?
If you can, call 911 and CHEW four baby aspirin or one adult aspirin (as long as you don’t have a bleeding issue). If you’re not sure, call your doctor. Symptoms can come and go, but the sooner you get medical attention, the less damage to your heart. As the saying goes “Time is muscle." So it's better to be safe than sorry.
What should you do if you see someone having a heart attack? Do those defibrillators actually work?
First, call for help. And if they don’t have a pulse or they are unconscious start CPR. Yes, automated external defibrillators (AED) machines work if there is a shockable arrhythmia. Most of the time when people die suddenly it’s not from the size of the heart attack but from the arrhythmia, and a defibrillator can be life-saving. Even a small heart attack can kill. So don’t be afraid to use the AED device just because you don't have any specialized training. The machine will tell you what to do. And if you own business that is required to have one, be sure to check it periodically to make sure it’s in good working order.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. What can guys do to keep the cardiologist away?
Taking baby aspirin and cholesterol medicine can work if you’re at risk. Especially if there’s a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Remember, if there is a family history it’s important to teach your children and your grandchildren to be proactive when it comes to taking care of their health.
What exactly is going on when someone in great shape, like trainer Bob Harper, has a heart attack?
It’s all about genetics. Which is why it’s important to pick your parents carefully. Likely, cholesterol was deposited in his coronary arteries, hardened and cracked off. In an attempt to heal itself, the body will form a little scab. Unfortunately, it can close the artery and cause a blockage to the heart muscle. When the muscle downstream doesn't get blood and oxygen, it starts to die. Opening the artery is vital. Aspirin can help break up the clot as can an urgent stent.
Can exercise weaken your heart muscle?
Proper exercise should not. However, if you have coronary disease and plaque in your arteries the wrong kind of exertion, like shoveling snow in cold weather, can constrict your arteries causing the plaque to crack and start a heart attack or a life-threatening abnormal rhythm. If you’re out of shape, do yourself a favor and pay the kids to shovel.