When heart attack or stroke is suspected, don’t delay: Call 911

Maybe you’ve heard a story about someone having a heart attack and driving himself to an emergency room, where he was successfully treated. In reality, this happy outcome is rare.

Maybe you’ve heard a story about someone having a heart attack and driving himself to an emergency room, where he was successfully treated. In reality, this happy outcome is rare.

Here is the straight scoop: If you or someone you are with is having chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Do not drive yourself to get help. If you lose consciousness while driving, you will likely crash your car — injuring not only yourself but others. Likewise, don’t ask someone to drive you to a hospital.

“My pet peeve is when someone is having a heart attack and their spouse drives them to the hospital,” said Vipul R. Panchal, M.D., interventional cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists and director of the cardiac catheterization lab at Norton Brownsboro Hospital. “We lose valuable time. The transit time in the ambulance is crucial because we can start life-saving medications, perform an EKG, alert the hospital and activate the heart team. In addition, cardiac arrest can occur at any time during a heart attack, and that is not a good situation when it occurs in a car.”

Those of us who live in Louisville are fortunate, because all Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Services ambulances are equipped with technology that allows heart attack victims’ test results to be transmitted to hospital emergency rooms for review and assessment while the patient is en route. This saves valuable minutes in getting the patient to the catheterization lab, improving the chance of surviving the heart attack and minimizing heart damage.

“The less time that elapses between the onset of heart attack symptoms and receiving angioplasty, the higher the likelihood of survival and the less damage that is done,” Dr. Panchal said. “Angioplasty stops a heart attack, restoring blood blow and preventing further damage. An extra five or 10 minutes can make all the difference.”

This saying sums it up: Time saved is heart muscle saved. There’s a parallel saying regarding stroke: Time saved is brain saved.

Stroke is the No. 4 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot (called an ischemic stroke) or ruptures (a hemorrhagic stroke). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the oxygen-rich blood it needs, so brain cells die. Whichever body function is controlled by that part of the brain will be impaired.

Immediate treatment for stroke (within three hours) may minimize long-term effects and prevent death. Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the only treatment for ischemic strokes approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Given through an IV in the arm, tPA dissolves the clot and improves blood flow to the brain.

As with a suspected heart attack, if you are having any of the symptoms of a stroke, do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Call 911 immediately.

Stroke symptoms

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Abrupt loss of vision, strength, coordination, sensation, speech or the ability to understand speech
  • Sudden dimness of vision, especially in one eye
  • Sudden loss of balance, possibly accompanied by vomiting, nausea, fever, hiccups or difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden and severe headache with no other cause, followed rapidly by loss of consciousness
  • Brief loss of consciousness
  • Unexplained dizziness or sudden falls

Sources: American Stroke Association (strokeassociation.org); Webmd.com


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