Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack and at least two-thirds of them experience chest pain. In addition to being the top sign of a heart attack, chest pain is the primary symptom of cardiovascular conditions.
When you have chest pain, the challenge is deciding if you should call 911 or schedule an appointment at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute. In this blog post, we recommend five steps to take if you have chest pain.
On average, people wait three hours before seeking help for chest pain. If you think you're having a heart attack (see our tips in steps three and four), delaying medical attention increases your risk of dying before you can get life-saving treatment.
During a heart attack, your heart is deprived of oxygen-rich blood. Without oxygen, heart muscle cells rapidly die. If you survive the heart attack, the more muscle damage you sustain, the more likely you are to have long-term complications.
If you suspect you're having a heart attack, take these three critical steps:
Don't wait to call 911, and don't drive yourself to the hospital. You could lose consciousness while driving or you may have to stop the car (and won't make it to the hospital) if your symptoms get worse.
Take 325 milligrams of aspirin. Be sure to chew the aspirin instead of swallowing it whole. Quickly getting aspirin into your system thins your blood and helps limit the damage to your heart.
Unlock your door so the paramedics can get inside. This is a precaution in case you lose consciousness before they arrive.
If you have any of the following symptoms together with chest pain, you should call 911 immediately because there’s a good chance you’re having a heart attack:
You may also experience a heaviness or aching sensation in one or both arms.
Many people don't realize that chest pain caused by a heart attack isn't always the movie version of a sudden, sharp, severe pain. If your pain meets any of the following factors, you should get immediate medical care:
If your chest pain comes on suddenly after exercising, it's more likely to signal a heart attack. However, during a heart attack, the pain often builds gradually over several minutes. It may also build, disappear, and then return.
Your chest pain is a serious red flag when it lasts longer than a few minutes. In many cases (but not all), the pain also gets progressively worse during that time.
By comparison, chest pain that quickly disappears seldom signals a heart attack, even if you have a sharp, stabbing pain.
Remember that instead of pain, your chest may feel like it’s being squeezed or crushed. Or you may feel like you have the pressure of an elephant sitting on your chest.
Most people feel the pain of a heart attack in the center of their chest. A heart attack may also cause pain that radiates to your neck, back, shoulders, and one or both arms.
Sharp pain that appears when you breathe or cough typically means you have a lung problem. However, lung symptoms also warrant prompt medical attention because you could have a serious lung condition such as pneumonia or a blood clot.
If your chest pain goes away, you should still schedule an evaluation just to be sure you don’t have a condition that needs treatment. Additionally, if you have been diagnosed with a heart condition and have chest pain, you should also call the office and schedule a checkup, even if the pain seems mild or doesn’t last long.
Seeing the team at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute is especially important if you're diagnosed with:
The only time you shouldn't call the office to follow up on chest pain is when you need to dial 911.
If you have questions about chest pain, call Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute or book an appointment online today.