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Around Our Town: Safety

You and Your Heart

02/01/2011 - Statistics show that more than 90% of all people who die from a snake bite do so because they think they are supposed to die once bitten! Medically, most of these people did not experience a life-threatening dose of venom or the snake's attack missed a significant artery. In other words, the bite alone should not have caused death.

What does this have to do with your heart? Well, the opposite is often true with heart attacks. People experiencing heart attack signs and symptoms will often die not because of the heart attack itself, but because they refuse to acknowledge that what they are having is a heart attack. Oh, it must be gas from lunch, or the sweating is because it is hot outside (not this time of year!). Rather than believing they need help, they ignore the signs and symptoms, hoping the problem will go away. Often, it doesn't.

People are strange. In all my years as an emergency responder, I have responded to and heard lots of interesting excuses for why things did or did not happen. But none of them are so deadly as to refuse to pay attention to the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

So, first, what are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack? There can be many, but to focus on the critical few, signs include profuse sweating, pale (ashen) color skin that is cool to the touch, a squeezing (not sharp, piercing) pain directly under the sternum (breastbone) and most often radiating into the left shoulder and arm. The pain does not improve or worsen when taking a deep breath, but remains constant. It is often described as 'someone is sitting on my chest.'

If you or someone you know suffers from a condition called Angina sudden onset of chest pain brought about by physical or emotional stress you know that by stopping what you are doing and taking your prescribed nitroglycerin tablet, the pain may subside within five minutes or so. If you have already tried that stopped, taken your meds, and the pain is still present you need to go to the hospital.

Having a heart attack does not necessarily mean the person is already dead or that CPR is yet necessary. You may still be having a conversation with that person, but do not doubt that the person is in trouble. Call 9-1-1 as soon as the signs become evident because your patient may 'crash' at any moment. Treatment may include CPR, but it must also include the use of drugs (by a certified emergency responder or physician) and the paddles (defibrillator), something you most likely can't do particularly on yourself!

So, do all you can to keep a healthy heart. But when it presents warning signs of a problem, don't wait to see if it is passing gas. Time is precious. Don't waste it. Learn the signs of a heart attack and find a class to learn CPR. Stay safe at home!

Randy DeVaul (safetypro@roadrunner.com) is a 30-year safety professional and emergency response instructor. Comments are always welcome.

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