Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Commit to Heart Health: Use American Heart Month to learn about chest pain.

February is American Heart Month. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about understanding your risk for heart disease. It’s also our chance to emphasize how important it is to everyone at UPMC Pinnacle to help you stay well and achieve your best health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, one in four deaths is caused by heart disease.

There are simple ways you can take control of your heart health. Start by making simple lifestyle changes that will help you reduce your risk for heart disease and talk to your doctor for guidance.

One of the most important ways you can protect yourself from disease is to understand chest pain symptoms, what it can mean, and the actions you should take if you or a loved one experiences it. Knowing what to do and acting quickly can save lives.

Get emergency care if you have chest pain
Chest pain can be as serious as a heart attack or as minor as heartburn. But only a medical professional can determine why you are having pain and properly treat you. At UPMC Pinnacle, we take chest pain seriously. Our doctors, nurses and technicians are specialty trained to evaluate and treat patients experiencing chest pain.

Unfortunately, our doctors are seeing a recent and disturbing trend. There is an increase in patients who are going to urgent care locations with chest pain symptoms. Urgent care is for minor ailments and illness. Chest pain warrants immediate emergency attention.

Sometimes, chest pain or discomfort is a symptom of a heart attack, but only a skilled professional can rule out or diagnose one. Heart attacks are serious and need treatment in the ER. Never take a chance if you or someone you love is experiencing chest pain. Other signs and symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained sweatiness or cold sweat
  • Obvious and fast heartbeats
  • Anxiety or a feeling of impending doom
  • Pain or tingling down the left side of the arm, along the jaw or neck

Do not drive yourself to the emergency room
Individuals should never dismiss chest pain or attempt to drive themselves to an ER.

According to our emergency medical services (EMS) team, time is crucial when it comes to the possibility of a heart attack. The best thing to do is call 9-1-1. The longer it takes to get to an ER, the more damage to the tissue of your heart.

When you drive yourself or ask someone else to drive you while you’re having chest pain, you could be underestimating your situation. You not only risk your own health, but you can jeopardize others by getting into a car accident on the way to the medical facility if the pain intensifies. Putting yourself and others at risk unnecessarily is dangerous.

Act quickly to protect your health and life
The American Heart Association encourages use of a new quality measure called “first medical contact to balloon.” That is the amount of time it takes to successfully re-open a blocked artery. (This kind of heart attack is called a STEMI. That’s short for ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction.)

The goal is to open a blocked artery within 90 minutes of EMS (ambulance) arriving at the patient’s side.

Doctors treat STEMI with “clot-busting” drugs or with intervention in a cardiac catheterization lab. This is also known as angioplasty or stenting. There is a direct relationship between the amount of time a heart artery is blocked, the severity of the heart attack and the odds of survival.

Get care in the right place
Everyone wants relief when facing an acute illness, injury or health annoyance. Yet some of us downplay and ignore signs and symptoms that should be addressed. Getting the right care in the right place can make the difference between a successful or fatal outcome. In the case of chest pain, the emergency room is the place to go for heart attack treatment.

Commit to heart health
Taking care of your heart will improve your overall health and will allow you to enjoy quality time with your loved ones. Start by making a commitment to yourself to talk with your doctor about your risk for heart disease and what you can do to reduce your risk. Celebrate American Heart Month by sharing this commitment with a loved one to support your efforts.

Philip W. Guarneschelli is president and CEO of UPMC Pinnacle, a community publisher for TheBurg.

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