Surviving a heart attack: 5 things you can do to increase your odds

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - When you're having a heart attack, the hospital ER team moves with precision to get the blood flowing again. But what about the critical moments before you ever get there?

"Time is muscle," says Rochelle Thompson, APRN, of the Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center.

Thompson says the longer you wait to get help, the more damage done to your heart. She says the first key in increasing the odds you'll survive is to know you're having a heart attack.

"You want to know your signs and symptoms of a heart attack," Thompson said. "Symptoms such as chest pain, maybe radiation into the neck, the jaw, the arm, could be short of breath; you may be light-headed or dizzy, nausea, vomiting."

Once you spot the signs, don't hop in the car - call 911.

"EMS can respond quickly and start treatment right away," Thompson said. "They have access to a monitor so they could put you onto a monitor and say right away whether or not you're having a heart attack. If they do see that you're having a heart attack, they could send that ahead of time to the emergency room so that they can kind of prep and know that you're coming."

With the ambulance on the way, take a full, 325 milligram aspirin - or four baby aspirin - and chew it to quickly get it into your system.

"It does thin the blood," Thompson said. "Some heart attacks are caused by blood clots, so of it is a blood clot, it can help work on that and open up the coronary a little bit to get some profusion there."

Next - unlock your door - or tell the 911 operator where to find the key. Thompson says you want to make sure that EMS can get to you, without having to spare seconds or minutes looking for a key or forcing entry.

Finally, sit down and relax. Thompson says it's okay if your house is dirty - it's more important to avoid any activity because it could make your symptoms worse.

"When you're having a heart attack, what happens is you're restricting blood flow to the heart muscle. If you are exerting yourself or doing a lot of activity, your vessels constrict and you're then further causing more issues with profusion to that muscle and it can cause damage," she said.

Thompson says it's supply and demand - decreasing the oxygen supply needed can protect your heart - and maybe your life.

Thompson also suggests you keep a list of medications and contact information readily accessible.

The Kansas Dept. of Aging and Disability Services launched Operation Red File a year ago to help with that. It distributes red folders with forms inside to fill out key information. The folders have magnets attached to it can hang on the refrigerator where EMS can spot it.

Operation Red File is active in eight communities so far. In Shawnee Co., people can pick up a free file at any Topeka fire station or the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging or the KDADS office. Osage and Douglas counties are among other partners, and KDADS plans to continue expanding this year.

For further information about Operation Red File, call 800-432-3535.

One other tip - if you think you are having a heart attack, don't beat around the bush. Actually tell people, "I think I am having a heart attack." If you are in a public place, Thompson says, that could signal people to help you get to treatment more quickly. If you're at the hospital, it could give medical staff better clues to the attention you need.