'Seconds count' is theme for American Heart Month

Every 34 seconds someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease. Of the 1.25 million people experiencing a heart attack, 500,000 will die. More than half of these deaths will occur outside the hospital.

February is American Heart Month and The Memorial Hospital (TMH) is spreading the message that every second counts when dealing with any type of cardiac stress.

"The first few hours after having symptoms of a heart attack are the most crucial this is when the most danger can occur," TMH Director of Public Relations/Marketing Heather Houseworth said. "One second could mean a life."

Physicians agree.

"Time is very important," Registered Nurse and Patient Care Planner at TMH Beka Warren said. "When we looked at our patient population, we found there were few people that came in because they thought they were having a heart attack but came in because someone around them thought they were having a heart attack.

"It is important to know not only when you are experiencing heart attack symptoms but also for those around you."

The first tendency when experiencing warning signs of a heart attack is to deny them. People try to convince themselves what they are feeling is indigestion or something minor.

Studies by the American Heart Association (AHA) show that up to 44 percent of the people experiencing signs and symptoms of a heart attack delay seeking medical attention for up to four hours, and up to 30 percent delay more than six hours.

Statistics from TMH show that two years ago patients delayed calling for emergency care for an average of around six hours, but a team has been established to help decrease that time.

If patients experiencing symptoms arrive at TMH quick enough, complications could be avoided through the use of clot busting medications.

The team responsible for quick timing is the Chest Pain Pathway. The pathway team is comprised of doctors, nurses, radiologists, lab technicians, respiratory therapists and other personnel which has been united to shorten response time resulting in quicker administration of the clot busting medications.

A heart attack can come with no warning, according to Dr. Tom Told.

"(People) tell themselves, 'this isn't happening to me,' or dismiss the problem as simple indigestion," Told said. "In many cases, just seeing a patient 24 hours sooner makes all the difference in the world. We may detect blockages that unquestionably would have caused a major heart attack had the person waited another day to come in to see us."

The most common ways these blockages are detected is through a treadmill or through a nuclear medicine test Thallium. The treadmill can measure cardiac stress and is 85 percent effective in men in finding the root of any possible cardiac problem. While the treadmill test is less effective on women, combined with the Thallium test, it proves 95 percent effectiveness.

For the Thallium test, a dye is injected into the body after the treadmill test and monitored immediately and looked over once again four hours later.

"These are screens for underlying coronary artery disease," Jeff Greer, Cardiopulmonary unit manager at TMH, said. "The tests gives us more specific details and which region of the heart is affected and which artery may not be functioning correctly.

"We are at a state-of-the art level and on the cutting edge."

According to the AHA, more than 95 percent of Americans who suffer sudden cardiac arrest die before reaching the hospital, equating to almost 250,000 deaths annually. The AHA estimates at least 50,000 lives could be saved each year if the sudden cardiac arrest national survival rate could be increased from the current 5 percent to 20 percent or higher.

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