Health Buzz: Patients Are Getting Faster Heart Care

6 ways to avoid dying of a surprise heart attack; signs of heart attack that many patients don't know.


Emergency Heart Care Is Getting Faster

Hospitals are giving faster heart care than they did just five years ago, new research suggests. Most heart attack patients who need an emergency procedure to open blocked arteries receive it within the recommended 90 minutes of being admitted, according to a study published Monday in Circulation. The potentially life-saving procedure—angioplasty, which restores blood flow to the heart—needs to be performed quickly; the longer patients go without it, the greater their risk of death. The new study is based on an analysis of more than 300,000 patients who underwent emergency angioplasty between 2005 and 2010. In 2010, 91 percent of patients were treated within 90 minutes, compared with 44 percent in 2005, and 70 percent were treated within 75 minutes in 2010, compared with 27 percent in 2005. "Americans who have heart attacks can now be confident that they're going to be treated rapidly in virtually every hospital of the country,'' study author Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale University School of Medicine, told the Associated Press.

  • Best Hospitals for Cardiology and Heart Surgery
  • What Makes a 'Best' Heart Hospital?
  • 6 Ways to Avoid Dying of a Surprise Heart Attack

    The facts are scary: Despite the progress made against heart disease in the past several decades, almost half the people who die suddenly from a heart attack or other cardiac problem have no prior symptoms. Even knowing someone's risk factors for heart disease, it's often tough to pinpoint who will actually go on to get the disease, U.S. News reported in 2008. And once blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked and a heart attack happens, it's not exactly clear why some people experience sudden cardiac arrest, and others don't. Those uncertainties, however, don't mean that you are powerless to protect yourself from dying of a heart attack. Here are steps to take to improve your odds:

    First, follow the standard prevention guidelines. The American Heart Association has three basic tips for preventing heart disease, stroke, and heart attack: Don't smoke, be more active, and make good nutritional choices. This is good general health advice, regardless of your heart disease risk.

    Exercise is also important. "Exercise raises good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol," says Rob Michler, director and chairman of heart surgery at the Montefiore-Einstein Heart Center in New York. Worrying that exercise is going to give you a heart attack is not a valid excuse for skipping it; while it's true that exercise raises your odds of a heart attack in the moment, the long-term benefits vastly outstrip this short-term risk. Still, check with your doctor first if you're obese, have health problems, or haven't exercised in years. [Read more: 6 Ways to Avoid Dying of a Surprise Heart Attack.]

    • Recuperating From Heart Surgery: An 8-Step Comeback Plan
    • Women Having Heart Attacks Often Slow to Get Help
    • Signs of Heart Attack That Many Patients Don't Know

      Many people with heart disease may be lacking in their knowledge about the signs of a heart attack, U.S. News reported in 2008. Vincent Bufalino, cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association, offered the must-know information that could save your ticker—and your life—should a heart attack strike.

      Signs and symptoms that could indicate a heart attack include:

      • Exertion-related discomfort—say, going up the stairs or carrying a heavy box—such as pressure, burning, squeezing, or tightness in the chest.
      • Radiating pain or pressure into either arm, the neck, or the jaw.
      • Breathlessness along with profound fatigue or exhaustion. (Women, in particular, tend to experience these more subtle signs.)
      • If you develop any of these symptoms, it means you should call 9-1-1 right away, says Bufalino. "We don't want people driving in [to the hospital] and having a sudden cardiac event in the car where nothing can be done." That goes for having a worried spouse ferry you to the hospital, too. Significant damage can be avoided the sooner you get medical help. [Read more: Signs of Heart Attack That Many Patients Don't Know.]