Heart to Heart

It's a beautiful day and you are out working on your yard.  Just as you are about to go inside for a quick break, you hear the faint sound of sirens approaching.  You decide to stay outside a few minutes longer to see which direction they are heading.  Your eyes grow wide as an ambulance turns down your street and rolls to a stop in front of your neighbor's house.  A few people rush inside carrying bags of equipment.  Mr. Smith has lived next door for several years.  Just last week you celebrated his 70th birthday with him.  Out of concern, you decide to check to see if there is anything you can do to help.

As you step inside, EMT's are obtaining his blood pressure, asking him questions and connecting him to a monitor.  You step up next to Mrs. Smith who is visibly shaken and help her to a chair.  She explains that John has been having chest pain for about an hour.  You look over at him to see that he is holding his chest with one hand and the color is drained from his face.  You also notice he appears to be having a hard time breathing as an EMT administers oxygen through a face mask.  As they load him onto a stretcher and prepare to put him in the ambulance, one EMT comes over to explain what is happening.

You hear him say that Mr. Smith appears to be having a heart attack and he shows Mrs. Smith an ECG tracing.  As he questions Mrs. Smith about her husband's medical history you are amazed at how many of the same things run in your own family.  High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all mentioned.  You offer to drive Mrs. Smith to the hospital, and she thankfully agrees.

Maybe you have been in this type of situation before, or maybe you know someone who has.  Many people know that when they experience severe chest pain or pressure, arm or jaw pain or difficulty breathing it is important to call 911.  Many people however, are unaware of the definitive treatment that can now be given in an ambulance due to the advancement of 12-lead ECG monitoring.

Paramedics are trained and equipped to apply and interpret a 12-lead ECG (an advanced electrical picture of the heart) within minutes on a patient experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.  This important tool can not only determine whether or not someone is experiencing a heart attack, it can often show the paramedic specifically  where the injury is located in the heart.  This in turn determines what type of treatment the patient will receive while en route to a hospital that can intervene surgically if necessary.  It also allows the paramedic to give the physician at the hospital a detailed report of what is happening with the patient.  This allows the hospital to be prepared for the patient's arrival by calling for a cardiologist before the patient arrives.  In severe cases, the ambulance crew is now able to take a patient directly to a surgery room where a cardiology can repair the blocked artery that is causing the heart attack.

When a heart attack occurs, time is essential.  The chance of survival from a heart attack improves greatly with immediate interpretation of a 12-lead ECG and rapid intervention by emergency personnel.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

  • Age: Four out of five heart patients are 65 years of age or older.

  • Gender: Males are at a higher risk than women.

  • Family History: A family history increases your own risk of a heart attack.

  • Smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to experience a heart attack as non-smokers.

  • High Blood Pressure: Often in association with obesity, and increases the risk of heart attack.

  • Diabetes: 66% of patients with uncontrolled diabetes die from heart disesase.

  • High Cholesterol: High total cholesterol and low HDL ("good") cholesterol levels the risk of a heart attack.

  • Obesity: Increase the strain on the heart, raises blood pressure and cholesterol and increases the risk for diabetes.

  • Lack of physical activity: Regular exercise reduces the risk for a heart attack by reducing cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes.

Article written by Heather Robinson, RN, EMT-P

This page is meant for public education in basic medical safety issues.  The Cedarville Township Fire Department is not responsible for any further complications resulting from improper use of information contained on this page.

Cedarville Township Volunteer Fire Department
19 South St.
Cedarville, OH, 45314
Phone: 937-766-5851 - Email: ctvfd@woh.rr.com