Not every heart attack looks or feels the same. That’s why it’s important for the more than 1 million people who will have a heart attack this year to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack – and know what to do when it happens.

The most important thing to remember? Call 911.

“Once a cardiac patient hits the door, we have 90 minutes to get them to the cath lab and get that blocked artery open,” said Cynthia Cimini, RN, Rapides Regional Medical Center’s Coordinator of Cardiac Initiatives. “That includes their time in the emergency room, getting back their test results and assembling the cath lab team.”

"Once a cardiac patient hits the door, we have 90 minutes to get them to the cath lab and get that blocked artery open"
Cynthia Cimini, RN

At Rapides Regional Medical Center, this has happened routinely, since January 2007, when the hospital put a process in place to make sure all heart attack patients received the fastest care possible. Though the goal is 90 minutes, it is often accomplished in under 60.

“When a patient is having a heart attack, that means that heart muscle is being damaged,” Cimini said. “The faster we can stop that heart attack by removing the blockage, the more muscle we can save.

“That correlates to a lower mortality here in the hospital, 30 days after the hospital and beyond.”

But while it’s important that the cardiac team and cardiologists here at the hospital are doing their best, much also depends on the patient.

“Most patients don’t act quickly enough to make it to the hospital for help,” Cimini said. “Any delay in treatment can be deadly. That’s why we educate our community so they will be able to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack and know what to do.”

Some of the most common warning symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort in the center or left side of chest
  • Upper body discomfort – Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulder, neck, jaw or upper part of stomach
  • Shortness of breath – Can occur at rest or during physical activity

But a heart attack can also cause patients to break out in a cold sweat, feel unusually tired for no reason, experience nausea and vomiting, sudden dizziness or as a pain in the back, shoulders or jaw.

“Our message is that if you think you might be having a heart attack, even if you aren’t sure, we want you to call 911,” Cimini said. “Those first minutes do matter. And an ambulance is the best and safest way to get to the hospital. When in doubt, get your chest pain checked.”

chest pain? When in doubt, check it out! Call 911 immediately. Symptoms of a heart attack include: chest pain or discomfort, upper body discomfot, shortness of breath