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I think I’m having a heart attack…what does one do?

July 2, 2013

Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM

Your Personal Trainer

Your Personal Trainer: Be Your Own First Responder—Why It’s Better to Call 911 If You Think You’re Having a Heart Attack . . .

You’re just not sure. Something isn’t right. It’s hard to get your breath. Did I eat too much? It’s just heartburn. I’ll take a Tums and see how I feel in the morning. There’s a pressure, a burning in my chest. I’m sweating and I’m just sitting here. My arm hurts. I feel a little sick. I’m scared. My throat is tight, my jaw, my shoulder—something is wrong . . .

You may be having a heart attack. Call 911 even if you’re not sure. You can’t be sure. Call 911. Why? Because when the ambulance or fire rescue truck arrives, they can start some things that need to be started and stop some things that may start along the way . . .

Think about it. If you are alone and drive yourself, you may not get there. You could get worse—you could slump over, pass out and, yes, even die on the way to the hospital and you might hurt someone else along the way.

Okay, you’re not alone—your wife, husband, friend or neighbor—can drive you. You get worse, your pain increases, your heart is begging for oxygen—you stop breathing—what then can your wife, your husband, your friend or neighbor do to help?

The first responders, the EMTs, the paramedics will do what the others cannot. They will start what needs to be started—oxygen, an IV, and the all important heart monitor which can be transmitted to the hospital and which might show that you are having a heart attack. It is known as a Code STEMI and it means that one of your major coronary arteries is 100% occluded—totally blocked—and that the heart muscle around it will die if it is not opened, and you might, too. The ambulance, those first responders, will let the hospital know you are on your way and when you will arrive. They will be ready and waiting for you to get that artery open within 90 minutes of your arrival at the hospital door.

That’s why you need to call 911. Don’t wait till morning—YOU ARE YOUR OWN FIRST RESPONDER! CALL 911. Even in the ambulance, your heart can become irritated. A heart attack is an evolving process and can lead to an arrhythmia, an abnormal, irregular heartbeat that can lead to death if not treated. The paramedics can help. They can start what needs to be started to save your heart muscle and maybe your life–and they are there to help stop those worsening heart rhythms—those arrhythmias that may stop your heart.

So, call 911. Call that ambulance. They are the First Responders but before them—there is you. You are your own first responder. It may save your heart. It may save your life. Time is muscle and every minute counts. What if it isn’t a heart attack you ask? Well, you may not know but wouldn’t you rather be with someone who can find out and help to get you where you need to be in time?

Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM

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Discuss this article

Amy C. July 2, 2013

This is one of those situations like heat stroke, by the time you try to figure it out it is too late. If something is funny going on, seek help, ask a friend, make the 911 call. Don’t just wait it out because you may not have the minutes you think you have. Don’t be embarrassed, be wise. I like how Olivia says we are the first responder. You won’t get them, unless you act first.

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