Most people have heard the words “heart attack.” Considering that nearly a million people in the United States have a heart attack every year, this medical emergency is fairly prevalent and affects many lives.1 According to the World Health Organization, about 17.9 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2016. This statistic represents 31% of all global deaths.
In this installment of the First Aid Series, we’re going to take a closer look at heart attacks and why immediate treatment could save a life.2 As with previous installments, our information comes directly from a nonprofit organization called the Mayo Clinic. They are a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education and research, and providing expert care to those who need healing.
Let’s start with the definition of a heart attack…
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. According to the Mayo Clinic, such a blockage is “most often a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries).”
The plaque ultimately breaks away and turns into a clot. This might damage or even destroy the heart muscle. The good news is that, while a heart attack can be fatal, treatment has significantly improved over time. If you think someone might be having a heart attack, seek emergency assistance IMMEDIATELY.
How Do You Recognize a Heart Attack?
Symptoms or signs of a heart attack can be tricky. Some are obvious—think chest-clutching pain—while others might vary or seem downright normal. Another important factor to keep in mind is that not everyone has the same severity of symptoms.
Unfortunately, some people have no symptoms. Others yet will have symptoms that strike suddenly and intensely. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Many people have warning signs and symptoms hours, days, or weeks in advance. The earliest warning might be recurrent chest pain or pressure (angina) that’s triggered by exertion and relieved by rest.”
Common heart attack signs and symptoms include the following:
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw, or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
How Do You Provide First Aid If Someone Has a Heart Attack?
Take immediate action. Some might not recognize the signs, which could prove to be fatal. Call for emergency medical assistance if you think you might be having a heart attack. If you don’t have access to emergency medical services, ask someone to drive you to the nearest hospital.
So, what should you do if you see someone having a heart attack? Mayo Clinic outlines the below steps on their website:
- First call for emergency medical help.
- Then check if the person is breathing and has a pulse.
- If the person isn’t breathing or you don’t find a pulse, only then should you begin CPR to keep blood flowing.
- Push hard and fast on the person’s chest in a fairly rapid rhythm—about 100 to 120 compressions a minute.
- If you haven’t been trained in CPR, doctors recommend performing only chest compressions. If you have been trained in CPR, you can go on to opening the airway and rescue breathing.
What Are Some Heart Attack Risk Factors?
While there are a number of risk factors, the Mayo Clinic notes that you can improve or eliminate many of them.
Here is their breakdown:
- Age. “Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.”
- Tobacco. “This includes smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke.”
- High blood pressure. “Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that feed your heart.”
- High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels. “A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries.”
- Obesity. “Obesity is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes.”
- Diabetes. “Not producing enough of a hormone secreted by your pancreas (insulin) or not responding to insulin properly causes your body’s blood sugar levels to rise.”
- Metabolic syndrome. “This occurs when you have obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.”
- Family history of heart attack. “If your siblings, parents, or grandparents have had early heart attacks (by age 55 for male relatives and by age 65 for female relatives), you might be at increased risk.”
- Lack of physical activity. “Being inactive contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity.”
- Stress. “You might respond to stress in ways that can increase your risk of a heart attack.”
- Illicit drug use. “Using stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, can trigger a spasm of your coronary arteries that can cause a heart attack.”
- A history of preeclampsia. “This condition causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.”
- An autoimmune condition. “Having a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase your risk of heart attack.”
For more information about heart attacks—including prevention strategies—be sure to check out the Mayo Clinic section that’s dedicated to this particular condition. Heart attacks are a serious medical emergency, so it’s best to arm yourself with knowledge!
A Brief Overview of Unitek EMT
At Unitek EMT, we strive to prepare aspiring Emergency Medical Technicians by providing them with EMT training and an accelerated EMT program. Experts in the EMS field educate our students through a combination of traditional learning, simulation training, and workshop-style classes.
Additionally, we offer a program with several variations to better accommodate our students. These include a 14-Day Boot Camp3 at our facility in Chandler, Arizona, and a modified version of the Boot Camp at our Fremont Campus in Northern California. We also offer several continuing education courses. In California, some participants learn how to perform CPR during our Basic Life Support (BLS) course, while others enhance their skillset with our Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) course.
Our Arizona students can attend American Heart Association (AHA) CPR courses or a stellar EMT Refresher course. This course is a combination of the traditional EMT Refresher—it includes all core material—and the NCCP National Registry 20-hour requirements, but it is presented in a 30-hour format.
If you’d like more information, please contact us toll free at 888-790-1458.
Help save lives with Unitek EMT!
2 Unitek EMT provides this information for general interest only, not as medical advice.
3 Our 14-Day EMT Program in AZ and the 14-Day on-ground portion of the EMT Program in CA are taught in an intensive “boot camp” style, to simulate the fast pace of work expected on the job as an EMT. The California EMT Program also includes online instructional hours.