Heart Attack is a Medical Emergency – Act Quickly to Save a Life

Heart Attack is a Medical Emergency – Act Quickly to Save a Life

A recent New England Journal of Medicine study reviewed the records of about 97,000 patients with severe heart attacks who were admitted to 515 hospitals between 2005 and 2009. Researchers found that although many hospitals improved the time between when patients arrive at the emergency room and undergo primary percutaneous coronary intervention – or door-to-balloon times – there was not a similar improvement in survival rate. Experts are looking toward improving pre-hospital variables.

Sadly, forty percent of patients with severe heart attack don’t call 9-1-1, causing significant treatment delays. Among the goals of the American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline program is to encourage patients and the community to learn to recognize heart attack symptoms and act quickly during this life-threatening situation. Fast action can reduce the amount of time between first symptoms and treatment and can ultimately save a life.

“A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem. A blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die,” said Michele Hooper, manager in the AHA National CPR/Emergency Cardiovascular Care programs. The heart muscle will no longer be able to pump efficiently—this is a life-threatening event and requires immediate medical care.


Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and may include intense discomfort, pressure or pain in the chest or other areas of the upper body. There is often shortness of breath, cold sweats, and/or nausea/vomiting. More often, though, symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before a heart attack. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back, neck or jaw pain.

The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. The victim is often aware and alert but in distress. The longer the person goes without treatment, the greater the damage to the heart which can result in death or permanent damage to the heart’s function (heart failure).


If some or all symptoms are present, even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number. Every minute matters. It’s best to call EMS to get to the emergency room right away. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car.

“Calling 9-1-1 activates the local emergency response system. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too,” said Hooper.

Most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest—when the heart stops beating. But when cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause. The American Heart Association also encourages everyone to be prepared in a cardiac arrest emergency and learn Hands Only CPR by watching a one-minute video at www.heart.org/handsonlycpr.

 This information has been provided by the American Heart Assocation. Visit www.heart.org/heartattack to learn more about how to recognize heart attacks.