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First Aid For Heart Attack

Alternate Names

  • myocardial infarction
  • MI
  • cardiopulmonary arrest
  • Heart attack

Definition

A heart attack happens when part of the heart muscle does not receive the supply of oxygen-rich blood that it needs to function. When the blood supply stops flowing to that part of the heart muscle, that muscle area dies.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

The causes of a heart attack usually involve either the formation of a blood-clot or a spasm in one of the arteries that supplies blood directly to the heart muscle. These arteries are called coronary arteries. When the blood is blocked to a part of the heart muscle, the oxygen-rich blood that is needed by that part of the heart cannot reach it.
As a result, the cells in that area are damaged or die. This usually occurs when the coronary artery has been narrowed due to a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the injury?

Controlling risk factors is the most important way to prevent a heart attack.
Blood pressure and cholesterol levels should be controlled. For people with high blood pressure or cholesterol, there are medications that are now used to help control these problems if lifestyle changes are not effective.
Other important ways to prevent heart attacks include dietary changes, weight loss for people who are overweight, and management of diabetes. A daily exercise program is beneficial to help lose pounds or maintain weight and keep the heart healthy.
Smoking and excessive alcohol use must be avoided. Smoking more than doubles the chance of developing heart disease. It is also important to limit alcohol intake, although small amounts of alcohol each day have been shown to reduce the rate of heart attacks in some people.

Diagnosed

How is the injury recognized?

Diagnosis is most often made in the emergency room. The doctor will usually do a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG) to study the electrical patterns of the heart. Blood tests can determine if the person is having or has had a heart attack by looking for chemicals released by the damaged heart muscle.
It is important for anyone suffering from chest pain to seek immediate medical help. The average person in the United States waits longer than 3 hours before seeking help for a heart attack. Women usually wait much longer than men.
It is always recommended that people with chest pain call 911 and never try to drive or have someone drive them to the ER. The emergency response team will be able to bring life-saving equipment and supplies to you much, much faster than you can drive or be driven to the ER.
There are many ways to treat heart attacks, but many of these treatments must be administered within the first 6 hours after the chest pain has begun. The sooner a person gets to the emergency room, the better the chances are of surviving and reducing damage to the heart. It is also important to note that many people do not want to believe that they are having a heart attack. They often deny that the pain they are suffering is a symptom of a heart attack.
There is a need to recognize that many men describe their pain as more intense and seek medical care much sooner than women. This means that many women will put off seeking medical care when they are suffering chest pain. They often believe that the heart attack symptoms are something mild or minimal, when in fact they are having a heart attack.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the injury?

Treatments for a heart attack involve some first aid measures.
  • Have the person keep calm, sit down, and rest.
  • Do not move the person or get them to exert themselves in any way. Exertion will only increase the heart rate, which will increase the amount of oxygen that the heart needs to work.
  • Determine if the person is taking any heart medications. If the person has medication, such as nitroglycerin tablets, assist them in taking the medication. If the chest pain does not lessen within 3 minutes of taking the nitroglycerin, give then an aspirin tablet and someone should call for emergency medical assistance.
  • Call for emergency medical help
  • If the person is unconscious or unresponsive, begin CPR. In addition, if there is an automated electrical defibrillator (AED) nearby, bring it to the person and prepare to use it. The newer models of AEDs are equipped to provide on-the spot instruction as to next steps, and a safety mechanism prevents the device from giving a shock if the patient's heart rhythm does not warrant it. The emergency services (911) operator can also provide instruction over the telephone.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

The medications can sometimes cause headaches and a lowering of blood pressure. If CPR is performed, there can be multiple injuries to the lungs, chest wall, and the structures of the chest cavity during chest compressions. However, the chest compressions may be the only way to save the person's life. For this reason, the lifesaving benefits from CPR outweigh the risk of injury.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

After first aid has been given and medical help has arrived, the medical team will take over. The person suffering a heart attack will be transferred to the nearest medical facility for further treatment.
The person may undergo a procedure called angioplasty, in which a catheter is placed into a large artery and then inserted into the heart to open up the artery. Surgery and grafts designed to bypass the clogged artery area may also be required.

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