Is it a Heart Attack?
Ramin E. Beygui, MD
Specialty: Cardiothoracic Surgery
While cardiovascular disease (conditions that affect the heart or blood
vessels) in general is the nation’s number one killer, most of those
deaths – about 375,000 out of more than 600,000 – can be attributed
to coronary artery disease.
Coronary arteries are responsible for supplying oxygen- and nutrient-rich
blood to your heart muscles. Over time, these can become damaged or diseased
through the buildup of plaque (deposits made up of fat, cholesterol and
calcium) along the artery walls. This reduced blood flow can cause chest
pain and shortness of breath, but high-grade or complete blockage can
lead to a heart attack.
Every 40 seconds, or about how long it took you to read to this point,
someone in the United States will suffer
a heart attack.
While movies may depict heart attacks as dramatically clutching your chest,
it doesn’t always look or feel like that. The five main symptoms
associated with a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or the feeling of tightness, pressure or squeezing
- Pain or discomfort in the arm or shoulder
- Pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw or back
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, lightheadedness or fatigue
In addition, men and women often experience a heart attack differently.
For instance, women may feel pressure or discomfort in the chest, rather
than an intense pain – if they feel any unusual pains at all. To
read more about how heart attack differs in women, read
In Women, Heart Attacks Don’t Look Like Heart Attacks from my colleague, Catherine Dao, MD.
So, what should you do if you think you’re having a heart attack?
Call 911 – In addition to getting through Bay Area traffic more quickly, EMS can
monitor or stabilize you while initiating the process of assembling the
hospital staff and resources to help treat you immediately upon arrival.
Chew aspirin – Unless you’re allergic to it, chewing and swallowing an aspirin
during a heart attack can slow clotting to reduce the severity of your
attack or prevent you from having multiple attacks en route to the hospital.
Take nitroglycerin (if prescribed) – If your doctor has determined that you’re at particularly high risk
for heart attack and prescribed you nitroglycerin pills, now is the time
to take them.
Never take medication that hasn’t been prescribed to you.
If someone has a heart attack near you and they are unconscious, begin
performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. If you’re
unsure how to perform CPR, the 911 dispatcher can tell you what to do.
Alternately, if an AED (automated external defibrillator) is available,
use it by simply following the device instructions.
During a heart attack, as with any cardiovascular event, how quickly you
receive care can be the difference between life and death.
As the designated cardiac receiving center for Alameda County, the Heart
and Vascular Program at Washington Hospital specializes in the fast treatment
of heart emergencies. This critical designation means that our team of
physicians and other clinicians are ready to diagnose patients upon arrival
to the Emergency Department, which results in rapid interventions. In
addition to our commitment to restoring blood flow in 90 minutes or less,
we work with patients and their families after treatment to rehabilitate
the heart and prevent further heart attacks. Our team is ready to treat
heart attack patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.To
learn more about what makes the
Heart and Vascular Program unique or
cardiothoracic surgery performed at Washington Hospital,
visit the hospital website.
Posted February, 2019
About Ramin E. Beygui, MD
Ramin E. Beygui, MD, FACS, has concurrently joined UCSF School of Medicine
Faculty in the Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery and assumed the
position of medical director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Washington Hospital
Health System. Dr. Beygui has practiced cardiac, thoracic, and vascular
surgery for the past 15 years at UCLA and Stanford University Medical
Centers and will be practicing the entire scope of his experience and
expertise. This includes repair of aortic aneurysms and dissections, minimally
invasive and cardiac surgery for structural heart disease and coronary
disease, and cardiopulmonary transplantation. He has served as the director
of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm at UCLA, the surgical director of lung and
heart-lung transplantation at Stanford University Medical Center and Lucile
Packard Children's Hospital, and medical director of cardiac, thoracic,
and vascular surgery at North Bay Medical Center.