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Why is seeking immediate emergency help critical during a heart attack?

Getting immediate emergency help during a heart attack is critical in order to lessen damage to the heart. Every minute counts during a heart attack.

It is critical to seek immediate emergency help during a heart attack to start treatment as soon as possible. Blood flow to the heart itself must be reestablished to preserve cardiac tissue and muscle and give you the best chance possible to regain full cardiac function.

Like all of the muscles and tissues in your body, your heart must have oxygen to survive. It doesn't take long for your heart tissue to begin to die, if its supply of blood-borne oxygen gets cut off.

Surprisingly enough, often it is not the congestion in your arteries—know as atherosclerosis—that kills you. It is the clotting that does you in.

It is very important to get quick treatment for a heart attack because every minute counts. Thousands of heart cells die every minute the blood flow is stopped in the coronary artery. Interestingly in the first 20 minutes of time when an artery is blocked, the cells become "ischemic" or sick. If the blood flow can be restarted within the first 20 minutes of a blockage occurring, the cells can recover almost universally. However after 20 minutes cellular death occurs and as noted above thousands of cells will die every minute after that 20-minute period until the blood flow can be restarted. This translates to the risk of the heart attack. Every 15 minutes a patient waits before they come to the emergency room to get treated is an additional 1 percent mortality associated with this. That is why you see national campaigns aiming to have the patient's artery open within 90 minutes of the time they reach the hospital. We are currently doing research to try to lessen this time in our hospital at Piedmont, as well as hospitals across the country.

Mrs. LeAnne Lovett-Floom
Ambulatory Care Specialist

Seeking emergency help during a heart attack is crucial in order to preserve heart muscle. One saying in the field is "time is muscle." Every minute that the cardiac tissue goes without oxygen, is one more section of heart that will no longer function properly; thus, decreasing the amount of oxygen pumped throughout the heart. This can lead to a condition called congestive heart failure (CHF) or Pulmonary edema. Many people often mistake the heart attack as indigestion or shoulder pain, only to find out weeks later that the damage has already been done. If you are experiencing any of the cardinal signs or even subtle signs of a heart attack, (fatigue, nausea, dull ache) contact your physician or call 911. Remember: "Time is muscle." That muscle you can't get back.

Most people who die of a heart attack die within 2 hours of the first signal. Any heart attack might lead to cardiac arrest, but prompt action may prevent further damage to the heart.

Seeking immediate emergency help is critical during a heart attack because if a heart attack can be caught within the hour, even within 90 minutes, doctors can treat it before the heart muscle dies. With a heart attack, every second counts. Doctors can get the arteries opened up, and get stents placed to re-perfuse that heart so that that heart muscle doesn't die. If a person has pain, particularly a woman with atypical pain, subtle signs and symptoms that just don't feel right, immediate emergency help is needed.

Dr. Chetan A. Patel, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A heart attack is a life-threatening event so there is no time to waste. The sooner a heart attack is treated, the more heart muscle saved (“time is muscle”). This can have an impact on your heart function including the risk of developing heart failure and dangerous abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). The longer you wait, the more likely you are to develop complications.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.