Heart Attack and Acute Coronary Syndrome
DescriptionAn in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of heart attack.
Alternative NamesBeta Blockers
ANYONE WHO BELIEVES THEY ARE HAVING A HEART ATTACK SHOULD NOT HESITATE TO CALL THE EMERGENCY MEDICAL SYSTEM.
In people with known heart disease, any unusual chest pain or other symptoms of heart attack that do not clear up with medications are signals to go to the hospital. The degree of pain and the specific symptoms before a heart attack vary greatly among individuals. Onset can be abrupt, gradual, or intermittent.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Chest Pain. People with heart disease or risk factors should be concerned about any chest pain, usually precipitated by exercise or stress, that interrupts normal activities and does not clear up after resting or taking angina medications. Chest symptoms might be experienced as follows:
Of note: Although chest pain is the classic symptom, it occurs in only about half of patients with a heart attack.
Other Common Symptoms. Other common symptoms of a heart attack include the following:
Atypical Symptoms. Some studies suggest that nearly half of patients with heart attack do not have chest pain as the primary symptom. Common atypical symptoms of a heart attack include the following:
Patients most likely to have atypical symptoms are women and the very elderly (although they can certainly have classic heart attack symptoms as well.)
Symptoms That Are Less Likely to Indicate a Heart Attack. The following are symptoms that are more likely to be due to causes other than a heart event:
The presence of these symptoms, however, does not always rule out a serious heart event.
Ruling Out Other Causes of Symptoms
Chest pain is a very common symptom in the emergency room, but heart problems account for only 10% to a third of all episodes. High on the list of other causes of chest pain are the following:
Actions Taken at the Onset of Symptoms
Individuals who experience symptoms of a heart attack should take the following actions:
For angina patients, take one nitroglycerin dose either as an under-the-tongue tablet or in spray form at the onset of symptoms. Take another dose every five minutes up to three doses or when the pain is relieved, whichever comes first.
Call 911 or the local emergency number. This should be the first action taken if angina patients continue to experience chest pain after taking the full three doses of nitroglycerin. It should be noted, however, that only 20% of heart attacks occur in patients with long-standing angina. Therefore, anyone who has heart disease or risk factors for it and experiences heart attack symptoms should contact emergency services.
The patient should chew an aspirin (250 to 500 mg)and be sure that emergency health providers are informed of this so an additional dose isn't given.
Chest pain sufferers should go immediately to the nearest emergency room, preferably traveling by ambulance. They should not drive themselves.