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Attacking the myths about heart attack

A recent social networking post outlines a technique for surviving a heart attack while alone that involves vigorous coughing. According to the email, an un-named cardiologist has advised forwarding the message to others in order to save lives.  Truth or hoax?

Like many other ‘useful’ posts and emails in circulation on our social networks this one contains an element of truth but is basically a hoax. Although the cough procedure has been researched and tested by medical professionals, cough CPR should not be attempted alone and should only be performed under strict professional supervision. According to the American Heart Association, “the usefulness of ‘cough CPR’ is generally limited to monitored patients with a witnessed arrest in the hospital setting”.

The message advises continuing the cough CPR in between deep breathing and waiting for help to arrive. At least part  of this message is true. At the first warning signs, even if you only suspect that you are having a heart attack – call 911 immediately.

According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation, here are the warning signs of heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort – it may feel like pain but is also described as uncomfortable chest pressure, squeezing, fullness or burning
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness

Heart attack symptoms for women appear to be a little less predictable than for men and therefore are sometimes missed – sometimes even by health care professionals.

What is the number one heart attack symptom for women prior to a heart attack? Surprisingly it’s fatigue. Unusual fatigue is also a major symptom of heart attack for women as is weakness, cold sweat and dizziness.

Although it was believed that women’s cardiovascular risk factors and symptoms differed from those of men, it may just be that women experience and/or describe pain differently from men.

If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Stop all activity and sit or lie down in whatever position is most comfortable. If you take nitroglycerin, take your normal dosage. If the 911 operator advises it, chew and swallow one adult tablet of aspirin or ASA if you are not allergic or intolerant. Do not substitute other pain killers such as Tylenol or ibuprofen for aspirin.

According to Women’s Health Matters, the information portal for Women’s College Hospital, women are more likely to die from heart attack than men, probably because they do not report  their symptoms  to their doctors as frequently as men. Cardiovascular disease, although once considered a ‘man’s killer’ is the number one killer of women in Canada and worldwide. So it is very important to become informed about the risks and ways to protect yourself from heart disease as well as to know how to recognize the warning signs. Always be cautious about what you read on the internet, even if the information seems well intentioned and well informed.

In this issue we have a number of features that will put your mind at ease that your heart is being well cared for. Our cover story looks at how William Osler’s Brampton facility moved to around-the-clock ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction or ‘Code STEMI’ coverage for patients requiring life-saving coronary angioplasty. For patients this not only means rapid access to treatment but could mean the difference between life and death.

We also look at how Cardiac Services BC, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), has successfully implemented the first province-wide cardiac information system in Canada to support clinical care, quality assurance and improvement, and outcome-based research. Hopefully other provinces will gain valuable information and strategies from BC’s system.

We also look at innovative technologies such as London Health Sciences’ device called the HeartMate II Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) which was developed with the goal of providing years of circulatory support for patients in heart failure, allowing them to leave hospital and return to their lives as they await the availability of a donor heart.

Collaboration is a key to success in many ventures and that’s why we feature a unique collaboration between Hamilton Health Sciences and Niagara Health System (NHS) that has brought cardiac catheterization services to the new St. Catharines’site of NHS. Both facilities are committed to the vision of one regional and integrated program delivered at two sites.

Cardiac Rehab has been an important part of any cardiac recovery program for some time but some facilities, such as Thunder Bay Regional Hospital recognize that prevention is better. That’s why they have expanded their programming to include high-risk clients to help them delay or, even better, avoid heart events. Their program focuses on diet and exercise and life-style changes and one-on-one coaching to help clients achieve their health and fitness goals.

We hope you enjoy this issue, and as always, we welcome your comments and feedback.


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