Chest Pain is a Treatable Symptom

Punta Gorda, FL (August 7, 2012) - As he forces down the last slice of his extra-large meat-lover’s pizza, the eating-contest champion jumps up in victory. Yet, as he gets up from his chair, a panicked look crosses his face. Clutching his chest, he collapses to the ground while worried onlookers rush to his side. The dramatic scene is believable, but it’s not necessarily true. Media depictions of heart attack often portray them as sudden or characterized by an overwhelming array of symptoms. However, this is typically not the case. 

Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) is the term used to describe an array of symptoms of coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and the symptoms are brought on by sudden reduced blood flow to the heart that results in chest pain. The symptoms also include referred pain in the upper arm, neck, or jaw; nausea and vomiting; heartburn; fatigue; shortness of breath; sweating; and lightheadedness. 

Men and women often present differently. It is not uncommon for women to present with back and arm pain and have gastrointestinal symptoms. Men, however, usually present chest pain. “That’s why it is very important for women who have those symptoms to be tested for a cardiac problem,” says Jo Evans, director of Education at Charlotte Regional Medical Center. 

It’s vital that the symptoms of ACS are taken seriously because, if left untreated, a heart attack can occur. Therefore, it is important to seek emergency help for symptoms of ACS. Early recognition is important to avoid potentially deadly results. Blood tests and electrocardiogram (EKG) can be used to rapidly diagnosis ACS, and treatment is rarely delayed while waiting for results. 

“Dismissing these symptoms could prove to be a fatal mistake. Time is of the essence. The faster the treatment the better outcome,” says Krista Orr, RN, MSN, Chest Pain Center coordinator and Emergency Department nurse at Peace River Regional Medical Center. 

“Recognize symptoms and act early,” continues Evans. “Don’t forget to call 9-1-1 and let an ambulance to take you to the hospital. You need to get to an emergency room immediately, and you certainly can’t drive yourself while you are having chest pains. Plus, the ambulance paramedic can assist with early diagnosis of a heart attack.” 

Luckily, ACS can be treated using both invasive and non-invasive methods. Often, pain medications and oxygen are administered because pain can cause a rise in stress hormones that worsens ACS. Invasive procedures for treating ACS involve surgery that directly fixes the blockages causing the symptoms. 

Remember that eating contest champion desperately gripping his chest? While he may be predisposed to a heart attack because of his unhealthy habit, he most likely ignored the early signs. It is important to understand that early heart attack symptoms are subtle warnings before heart damage occurs. 

Heartburn is one early heart attack symptom of that is commonly disregarded. Chronic heartburn can be an early sign of a heart attack and should not be ignored. Other heart attack symptoms include: shortness of breath, a feeling of impending doom, and crushing pain in the chest and other areas of the body. It is important to seek immediate attention if experiencing this type of pain. 

Often, people wait out early symptoms of a heart attack to see if they will feel better. However, most deaths caused by heart attacks happen within the first hour. The Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) at Charlotte Regional Medical Center is one of several facilities that specialize in the treatment of chest pain. As an extension of the emergency room, the CDU focuses on patients experiencing chest pain. Physicians access a patient’s symptoms and determine the appropriate treatment path.