Would you know if you were having a heart attack?

Heart disease is America's number one killer for both men and women; each year about 1.1 million people suffer a heart attack. About 460,000 of those heart attacks are fatal, so it is important to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack.

Most people think heart attacks happen like they do on television, where people suddenly clutch their chests and then fall over. In fact, a heart attack can feel much different. Most heart attacks involve some chest discomfort in the center of the chest, lasting for more than a few minutes, which may go away and come back.

This discomfort can feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. The pain might not only be in your chest, however -- you could experience discomfort in your arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Other signs might include being short of breath, sweaty, nauseated or lightheaded. Chest pain is often misinterpreted as heart burn. The pain can occur both with activity or at rest. Often people wake up in the middle of the night with these symptoms.

What should you do if you think you are having a heart attack?

If you or someone you are with is experiencing these symptoms, it is imperative to seek medical help. Call 911 and get to the hospital right away. By calling 911, the emergency medical services staff can begin lifesaving treatment immediately, provide oxygen, medications, and even revive someone who's heart has stopped.

If you've had chest pain or "angina," or a heart attack in the past, your doctor has probably prescribed nitroglycerin tablets for you. Usually your doctor will order you to stop your activity, sit down and rest, and if you continue to have pain, place a nitroglycerin pill under your tongue and let it dissolve. You may repeat this twice, but if you are still having pain, call 911.

Are you at risk for a heart attack?

You are at greater risk for a heart attack if you smoke, or have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or if you are overweight or lack exercise in your life. There is also a high risk if you have a significant family history with a parent or sibling having a heart attack at a young age.

If you have had any of these symptoms in the past, contact your physician. For more information about reducing your risk factors, call the Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital Cardiac Conditioning Center at 387-6326.

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