This months health feature discusses Heart Attack and how to prevent it.
Jamaica Magazine

Is It A…. Heart Attack?

Some people describe it as a little indigestion. Others say it is more like burning in the chest or even a squeezing pressure in the chest. These feelings can be just indigestion or nothing serious, or it could be a heart attack. Read on to find out more about heart attacks.

What is a heart attack?
The heart requires oxygen to work properly. It receives blood from blood vessels called coronary arteries. When these arteries are blocked or clogged, the blood supply to the heart muscle may be reduced or stopped altogether. This reduction in blood supply to the heart muscle can result in a heart attack (in the medical world, a heart attack is referred to as myocardial infraction or MI).

If blood supply is cut off for more than a few minutes and medical help is not received promptly, the muscle can suffer permanent damage.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms…
It is common for people to ignore heart attack symptoms. Individuals might expect the televized version of what a heart attack is – the chest-clutching pain and dropping to the floor. While that may be true for some people, heart attack symptoms are often less dramatic. Symptoms may include :

  • Uncomfortable pressure or pain in the center of the chest
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, profuse sweating, fainting, nausea or shortness of breath
  • Anxiety,or nervousness
  • Increased or irregular heart rate

It is important to know that a person having a heart attack may not experience all these signs and symptoms. However, if you notice any of these symptoms or signs, you should call an emergency medical service (1-9-9 or 9-1-1) immediately.

Diagnosis
The diagnosis of a heart attack will be made by the doctor at the hospital. The physician will evaluate your condition and perform several diagnositc tests. A blood test will be administered to detect any abnormal levels of certain enzymes in the blood. In addition, a chest X-ray or electrocardiogram (ECG) may be used to check for any other abnormalities.

Treatment
The chances of survival and minimal damage to the heart is best when medical attention is received in the first hour after a heart attack. Your doctor will give you medication to dissolve blood clots and restore blood flow to the heart, and/or medication to relieve pain. Your doctor may also recommend angioplasty or surgery if medication does not help. An angioplasty is a procedure in which a thin tube, known as a catheter, is inserted into blood vessels that provide blood to the heart to widen the arteries and increase blood flow.

Keeping a Healthy Heart
The following tips for living a healthier lifestyle can help to prevent a heart attack:

  1. If you smoke, quit. If you do not smoke, then do not start.
  2. Exercise (try at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily)
  3. Eat nutritious, well-balanced diet. A heart-healthy diet is rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables and grains, and low in fat, cholesterol and salt.
  4. Control blood pressure. A high blood pressure makes the heart work too hard! Visit your doctor regularly to get your blood pressure checked.
  5. Keep blood cholesterol level under control. The only way to find out your cholesterol level is by visiting your doctor and getting a blood test done.
  6. Lose weight if you are overweight.
  7. Try and reduce any stress you may have.

“What People Say…”
Question: I’ve heard people say that after a heart attack you should take an aspirin. I’ve even seen it on televsion sometimes. Should I do that before even calling the emergency medical service?

Answer: The first thing you should do is call 1-1-9 (or the emergency medical service number in your country). Some experts feel that some people tend to put off calling the emergency service right away if they take an aspirin. You should leave that to the professional. Call the the emergency service first. They will give the person experiencing the heart attack an aspirin if needed.

Need More Information…?
For more on heart diseases in Jamaica, visit the Heart Foundation of Jamaica website. For detailed information on heart attacks and keeping a healthy heart, visit the American Heart Association.

About the author

Deidre Patterson, MPH