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more articles by Stefek, Paul , MD  |  author's bio

A New Year’s Resolution That Could Save Your Life

Special to the Journal By Paul Stefek, MD, FACC


In 2015, the PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention) program at the Cayuga Heart Institute completed its fourth full year of service. The significance of this service on local cardiac care has been dramatic: the cardiac care team at Cayuga Medical Center has treated more than 170 patients in the throes of an acute heart attack, saving numerous lives and preventing critical damage to their hearts. Many other patients have been diagnosed with significantly narrowed arteries that were successfully opened, resulting in improved quality of life and in many instances preventing heart attacks.


The PCI program at the Cayuga Heart Institute (CHI) participates in national and state databases to ensure quality of care. Despite the high level of care we have developed at CHI, there remains one aspect of care over which we have no control: we know, from both national and local perspectives, that many people still adopt a wait-and-see attitude when heart attack symptoms occur. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of calling 911 if symptoms last more than two or three minutes without subsiding. Calling an ambulance right away gives you the very best chance of surviving a heart attack.


What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Heart attack symptoms include: discomfort in the chest, such as pressure, tightness, heaviness, or pain; pressure or pain between the shoulder blades; discomfort or pain in the throat, jaw, or arm. These sensations are persistent; they do not go away after a couple of minutes. They may be accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, and anxiety. Take these symptoms seriously and call 911 for help; it is the most important initial step you can take to save your life.


Why call an ambulance when I have a car and someone to drive me?

Calling an ambulance brings emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to your location very quickly. These trained health-care providers can diagnose a heart attack on the spot by performing an EKG. They can start administering medication to help stabilize your symptoms and then transport you safely to the hospital. The EMTs will also alert the cardiac care team at the hospital that you are on the way. Do not drive yourself or have a family member drive you. Life-threatening changes can occur on the trip to the hospital and if you are riding in a car, there is no help available.


What happens once the ambulance arrives at the hospital?

You will be taken directly into the Emergency Department. The interventional cardiac care team will evaluate you and decide whether you should go immediately for treatment to open the closed artery that is causing the heart attack. It is crucial to act quickly to save your heart muscle and possibly your life.


Is there a way to know ahead of time if I am at risk for a heart attack?

Many people who suffer a heart attack have had previous symptoms of compromised blood flow to the heart. People who have one or more arteries that are significantly blocked often experience one or more of the symptoms described above when they exert themselves with activity. However, when they stop their activity, the symptoms stop. If this happens to you, it is crucial that you seek medical attention to see if you have a heart problem.


It’s still the beginning of the New Year. There’s always time to make the most important New Year’s resolution of all. Resolve that you will not delay seeking medical care if you experience heart attack symptoms.  This resolution may save your life!


Dr. Stefek is the director of interventional cardiology at the Cayuga Heart Institute. He is board-certified in interventional cardiology and is a Fellow of both the American College of Cardiology and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Intervention. He has been practicing interventional cardiology for 30 years. For more information or call the Cayuga Heart Institute at (607) 274-4590.










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