I thought my pains were the remnants of a stomach bug – I threw up twice two days ago – but when I started to feel pressure in my chest, I thought, whoa, is this my heart? My dad died of a sudden heart attack years ago, so I went to the emergency room, even though I wasn’t feeling terrible. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said nonchalantly to the triage nurse, feeling like a hypochondriac.
In less than an hour, I was rushed by helicopter to the hospital, where the cardiac catheterization lab was where doctors could diagnose my problems and possibly open a blocked artery.
“A lot of people say, ‘You know, a few days ago, I wasn’t feeling well, I had indigestion,'” says Alan Schneider, MD, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Bethesda Suburban Hospital. “This shouldn’t be painful.”
Pain in the upper body is a common symptom of heart failure. Cardiologist Donald M. “Anything between the abdomen and the forehead can be a heart-related symptom,” says Lloyd-Jones.
Gen Z’s like me — I’m 57 — probably have Fred Sanford’s frequent chest-grabbing heart attack habits in “Sanford and Son” But the pain is not always noticeable. In my case, I experienced mild discomfort, as if a weight was pressed against my ribs, or my chest was filled with air.
“The typical symptom is an elephant sitting in the center of your chest — this hard, crushing pressure, in the center of the chest,” Lloyd-Jones says. “Never ignore this. It’s the most common warning sign.”
Other possible warning signs include arm pain (usually on the left side), stomach pain, and even pain in your gums or jaw. If the discomfort is accompanied by other symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath, or a headache or fainting, consider calling 911. For women, heart attack symptoms may be more diffuse or vague—sudden arm pain, neck or jaw pain, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, or unusual fatigue.
Also, heart attack symptoms can appear “hours, days, or weeks in advance,” the Mayo Clinic explains. website.
Lloyd-Jones’ advice: “If the symptoms seem normal with exertion and are better at rest, that’s a red flag for any doctor to say, ‘Let’s get you in and see what’s going on.'”
Something that is not the same Predictable warning sign of heart attack: high blood pressure. Mine was high — 156/84 before I went to the ER — but “some types of heart failure can cause very low blood pressure,” Lloyd-Jones said.
Other lessons from my experience include:
My approach to health issues is usually, “Eh — I’m sure it’s nothing.” But once I realized that my symptoms correspond to many others Mayo Clinic Warning SignsI went to the ER.
Within an hour of my arrival, cardiologist Yuri Deichak had me take an electrocardiogram (EKG) at home, diagnosed a blocked coronary artery, and activated the catheterization lab team at Suburban Hospital to open the artery.
“Time is muscle,” Deichak later told me, and it’s a common phrase among cardiologists. Doctors must quickly restore blood flow and oxygen levels to prevent heart cells from dying. Their goal: to get the patient into the catheterization lab to insert a stent — a small, expandable coil of metal mesh that, once created, keeps the artery open — within 90 minutes of symptoms.
As one of my nurses found out, procrastination can be deadly. A 49-year-old friend shared her story of having heart attack symptoms. The friend called his primary care physician that night but decided to see if his symptoms improved overnight. He was dead by morning.
Call 911, not Uber (or a friend).
I made a mistake: I asked a friend to drive me to the ER. Experts say this is smarter than driving yourself, but I should have called 911. If my heart had stopped during the drive, EMTs could have treated me immediately. They have a defibrillator to restart the heart, an EKG machine to check your heart rate, life-saving medications, and you know which hospitals have the right facilities to treat heart problems. My friend took me to the nearest hospital, but it doesn’t have a catheterization lab, so I ended up going to the helicopter guy. A cath lab is mandatory to open the artery
The Atlantic Health System, based in New Jersey, calls 911 for heart failure patients He received a quick treatment in 30 minutes From those who drive themselves on average. But many patients like me don’t make that call. My symptoms seemed mild, so 911 sounded great and an ambulance could be expensive depending on the situation.
Some heart attack victims choose transportation services like Uber or Lyft. A 2017 study In cities where Uber operates, ambulance usage has dropped by 7 percent. But taking an Uber for a heart attack is no safer than riding with a friend because your driver’s sedan probably doesn’t have an EKG machine or defibrillator.
Deichak said he remembers a patient who drove to the hospital via Uber, then suddenly ventricular fibrillation (cardiac arrhythmia causing sudden cardiac death). If the driver had arrived five minutes later, she might have died.
“EMTs want to keep an eye on you,” Lloyd-Jones said. “If something happens, they can react immediately.”
Having a heart attack is stressful. In the first hospital ER, I could hear the alarm in the nurse’s voice after she read my EKG report. I saw concerned faces as the helicopters drove me to the helicopter. In Cathy’s lab, the staff went around the room shaving parts that shouldn’t be shaved, inserting catheters into arteries and injecting dye to detect blockages on a screen. (“I’m going to feel hot,” said one technician, and yes, the ink burned on my arms and chest.)
And yet to my surprise, the overwhelming emotion I felt was not fear, but gratitude. In the midst of life or death chaos, I felt grateful for the people I loved, and the people who loved me and the team that treated me. Those peaceful feelings may have eased the pressure on my heart.
“One of the most common treatments we give in the emergency room is antidepressants,” says Lloyd-Jones, for patients who are understandably fearful and agitated. “If we can lower the heart rate and moderate the blood pressure, the heart will work harder and fewer heart muscle cells will die.”
I soon had another reason to be thankful. Once the team moved the catheter through my arm into my heart, they expected to find a large blockage. But my arteries look clean. So what happened?
Doctors suspect a piece Tile – Fatty debris on the walls of the arteries due to cholesterol and other substances. I was incredibly lucky. If the clot was large and It wasn’t Is it over? Sometimes even a small heart attack can cause patients’ heartbeats to go “highwire,” Deichak said.
Instead, less than 36 hours after the heart attack, I was walking in my hospital room with my IV pole, ready to be discharged. The scan showed no damage to my heart muscle. I was lucky.
“Now that I’ve had one heart attack, I’m a candidate for another,” Lloyd-Jones said. It is clear that plaque can form in the arteries. I feel mostly fine – the worst was two weeks of wrist and hand pain from the catheter. In the weeks following the heart attack, my EKG readings were irregular, and I had occasional palpitations, sometimes three to five times a day. But after about five months of going to the cath lab, everything was happily back to normal.
“I also have a very good long-term prognosis,” Schneider said. I ended up doing cardio (see the gym where everyone wears a heart monitor and gets blood pressure checked), which helped me lose seven pounds and lower my blood pressure. I’m also taking new heart medications, including an antiplatelet agent and a daily aspirin, to reduce my risks (I was previously taking a statin and a beta blocker). Even before the heart attack, I was lucky enough to eat a salad instead of a burger, but my doctor suggested that I reduce my daily sodium intake, which meant some sacrifices – including my favorite pizza.
From where I stand now, however, it’s worth noting going back to the ER.
“It was shot on the bow,” Schneider said. “You could have fallen dead, but instead, you’re here, alive.”