As an Expert Can Attest - Knowing the Signs of a Heart Attack
This article originally appeared in Be Well, a health
information newsletter published for members of the Greater Marlborough
As a registered exercise physiologist in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program
at Marlborough Hospital, John O'Loughlin, RCEP, has worked with hundreds of
patients recovering from heart attacks. Just about everybody shares one thing in
common. They say, "I didn't see it coming."
Neither did Mr. O'Loughlin when he was recently stricken with a heart attack
shortly after 1:30 am. He tells how a burning sensation in the chest made him
reach for an antacid before going back to sleep. A few hours later, he awoke to
more intense pain that worsened when he exercised his chest muscles. Seven years
of cardiac rehab experience told him that something far more serious was
happening to his body than just a case of indigestion from an overly spiced
dinner that evening.
Mr. O'Loughlin knew that he was experiencing the early stages of a heart
attack. Because of his training he remembered to take an aspirin that began to
thin his blood. After being taken to the Marlborough Hospital Emergency
Department, doctors determined he needed an emergency angioplasty to restore
blood flow to his heart. He arrived at UMass Memorial Medical Center minutes
later, thanks to the Life Flight air ambulance. In under an hour, a team of
specialists in the UMass Memorial state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheterization Lab
inserted three stents in Mr. O'Loughlin's right coronary artery, restoring
adequate blood flow.
"There are important signs to look for that could mean you are in the early
stages of a heart attack," explained Mr. O'Loughlin. "Listen to your body and be
aware of any slight changes in how you feel. Even the most subtle change could
mean something as serious as a heat attack is just around the corner."
No doubt Mr. O'Loughlin's background in cardiac care helped save his life. "I
was lucky. I knew what was happening and what I needed to do to survive - so
many others are less fortunate. Education is so important. I cannot stress how
important it is to get to know the warning signs of a heart attack," he said.
Marlborough Hospital offers a comprehensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Program
that helps individuals recover from recent heart problems or control their heart
disease risk factors by improving their overall health. For more information,
Heart Attack Warning Signs
Some heart attacks are sudden
and intense - where no one doubts what is happening. But most heart attacks
start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected are not sure
what is wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs provided by
American Heart Association that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the
chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It
can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or
discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or
As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or
discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of
the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting,
and back or jaw pain.
If you experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1.