Heart care: Awareness + action = attack avoided

Understanding the telltale signs and seeking immediate help is the key to preventing heart attacks and permanent damage to the heart

stethoscope in a heart shapeThe mere mention of the words heart attack makes one miss a heartbeat. Such is the fear that people harbour in their minds about the condition. This is because the incidence of heartattacks has risen tremendously over the years; it is a medical emergency, which can prove fatal within minutes if not treated in time. And there is no exception; even healthy individuals are equally at risk. The fear is also due to lack of awareness about the topic, despite attempts by private and corporate organisations to spread information about prevention and need for early treatment. Such awareness can save many lives.

What's the reason for negligence towards health checks among people and why is health at low priority in their lives? It's probably due to the many myths that prevail in the minds of people, which prove dangerous. In a majority of the cases, the delay in the treatmentof heart attacks is due to self-diagnosis gone wrong. The second issue is the lack of courage to face reality because of which patients deliberately suppress their symptoms or underestimate them.

Afraid to think of the worst, many continue to believe that they are healthy as long as they show no symptoms and hence don't feel the need to approach a doctor. This overconfidence is what makes them forget that it may be too late, if they wait for symptoms to develop.

Watch out for these symptoms of a heart attack

The classical symptoms of a heart attack are severe chest pain, perspiration, with or without vomiting and giddiness with weakness or breathlessness. Generally, people who experience all these symptoms, themselves realise the seriousness of the situation and seek immediate attention.

However, not everybody is fortunate to experience these symptoms as there are some atypical symptoms of heart attack too. When the symptoms are mild and atypical, the person tries topass it off it as acidity, gas or cervical spondylosis. This can prove fatal as time is lost in trying to obtain relief with antacids, fruit salt or painkillers that won't really help.

So the key is to become more aware of our health and take appropriate measures when required.

How the heart works

Let us familiarise ourselves with the working of the heart so that we understand the graveness of the situation. Our heart is a muscular pump designed to supply blood carrying all nutrients and oxygen to each and every cell of our body and to pump the impure[deoxygenated] blood received from the tissues into the lungs for purification[oxygenation]. The energy that is required to carry out this function round the clock is provided by the blood supply through three blood vessels called the 'coronary arteries'.

Over the years, these blood vessels develop deposits of fatty tissue and calcium on their inner lining compromising the arterial blood supply. The condition is called atherosclerotic coronary artery disease and the deposits are called plaques. However, all this happens without the person even being aware of it. A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries gets totally blocked, resulting in a total loss of blood supply to the heart muscle.

Factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high circulating blood fats, smoking, excess weight, lack of exercise and mental stress and strain all contribute to increasing your risk of a heart attack.

When the narrowing of the arteries is slow and gradual, the symptoms of heart attack may be atypical. Or,they may be preceded by chest pain and/or breathlessness. When the blockage is 30 per cent – 50 per cent, the symptoms may be acute and sudden.

The earlier such clots of plaque are detected, dissolved and the blood supply re-established, the better are the chances of survival and lesser are the chances of the heart getting permanently damaged.

Therefore, in case of symptoms, the person should reach the hospital at the earliest without wasting time. Once hospitalised, tests will be conducted to check if it is had a heart attack or it was a false alarm.

In case the blood supply to the heart is reduced by a blood clot, it can be dissolved with medicines called clot busters [thrombolytic agents] or surgically by balloon angioplasty.

Many individuals are not aware of the risk factors mentioned earlier, which predisposes them to heart attacks. They should be encouraged to undergo periodical check-ups to find out risk factors and take proper treatment. Heart attacks are hereditary and hence people with a family history should be more vigilant.

Since any delay can prove fatal, it is important to get informed about the symptoms of a heart attack and avoid self-diagnosis. It's good for you if your guess is correct, but if not, it may cost you your life.

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