by Jason Zimmerman, MD, MSPH
Interventional Cardiologist, Highlands ARH
If a patient is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, we’ll tell the patient to get to the emergency room as quickly as possible for an evaluation. In fact, doctors will often say “time is muscle,” when it comes to heart attacks, and there’s a good reason for that: heart attacks, especially certain kinds of heart attacks, can cause irreparable damage to the heart muscle. Heart muscle damage can cause problems both immediately and down the road, problems like weakened heart muscle function, congestive heart failure, and heart rhythm problems.
For example, during a STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction), the artery causing the heart attack is blocked completely. We want to get patients into the heart cath lab to open up that artery as soon as possible; our goal is within 90 minutes. Every moment after that 90-minute window means that the patient is incurring more and more heart muscle damage, hence, “time is muscle.”
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary greatly, but the most common symptom for both men and women is chest pain. Patients describe chest pain in different ways, like a pressure, a heaviness, or an ache. Some patients don’t experience chest pain, but do have nausea, lightheadedness, or fatigue. Sometimes women present with pain in the back or neck, or shortness of breath.
Most people are generally in-tune with their bodies and how they feel normally, but if you’re experiencing a new symptom, or a lingering symptom, it’s important to come to the ER. For example, if you’re experiencing chest pain that you think might be indigestion, take an antacid. If the pain doesn’t improve, it’s time to get checked out.
The Highlands PCI Program is a 24/7 full-service heart cath lab. For two and a half years we’ve been treating cardiac patients in the community, and we continue to get busier. The service is invaluable, because we’re available anytime, night or day.
When we say the cath lab is full-service, we mean it. We do diagnostics, like coronary angiograms. If patients have blocked or narrowed arteries, we can do elective and emergent percutaneous coronary interventional procedures, e.g., angioplasty and stent placement. We can also do peripheral angiography and intervention, which means opening up blocked or narrowed arteries in the extremities, like the leg.
Of course, the Highlands PCI Program is happy to help patients who are already experiencing manifestations of their coronary artery disease, however, I believe that prevention is the best medicine. There are a number of risk factors for heart disease that patients can control to reduce their risk of needing to visit the heart cath lab:
- stop smoking
- control your diabetes and your blood sugar
- maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels with diet and (if necessary) medication
- stay active.
Maintaining a healthy weight and an active, healthy lifestyle is the best way to slow down the progression of, or prevent, heart disease.