Abigail Mackey

Column Abigail Mackey

Health columnist Abigail Mackey writes "The Written Remedy" for the Observer-Reporter.

The Written Remedy: Many Americans can’t identify heart attack symptoms

Many Americans can’t identify the symptoms of a heart attack

February 13, 2013

They had a sleazy beginning, hearts did.

The symbol got its start tattooed on the limbs of unctuous, hairy-chested men who wished to silently express their desire for the company of a prostitute.

The tiny hieroglyphics couldn’t evade the adulterers’ wives for long before an explanation was required. Declaring the symbol as a logo for love not only lifted their brides’ skepticism but likely earned them a few bonus points, to boot.

The shape was intentionally reminiscent of a (working) woman’s figure and fashioned by an anonymous designer who, no doubt, became a hero of Georgia O’Keefe’s.

Aristotle, the Bible, the Romans and Hallmark all believe it to be the seat of emotion.

After enjoying several years of biscuits and gravy, it is the also seat of butter.

Our hands reach for it when in love and when its vessels clog, causing five tell-tale symptoms.

The question is, can you name them?

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control on heart attack symptom recognition, chest pain/discomfort and shortness of breath were identified by 92 and 93 percent, respectively, of those surveyed, but the other symptoms didn’t fare nearly as well.

Eighty-five-percent could identify pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulders – not so bad – but just 62 percent could name feeling weak, lightheaded or faint. Worse yet, a mere 48 percent knew that jaw, neck or back pain could denote a potentially deadly attack on our four-chambered pump.

With almost half of sudden cardiac deaths occurring outside a hospital, it seems that we who lug letters like R.N., M.D. and D.O. after our names need to do a much better job of getting the chest-clutching word out about heart attack.

But that’s only one part of the problem. The other roadblock is self-consciousness and denial.

For some, heading to the emergency room for chest pain is akin to standing naked in the middle of Heinz Field.

It’s not like a grand mal seizure or the need for stitches; the signs of those traumas are flashing neon signs, and the chances of “feeling silly” for seeking medical treatment are beyond low.

When it comes to the sometimes subtle or vague sensations associated with heart attack, many feel as though they’ll be viewed as hypochondriacs for expecting an electrocardiogram.

Let me say this plainly: You are not silly for seeking medical attention if you believe you need it.

End of story. This is not an opinion. Please remove all self-consciousness from that decision, should you ever have to make it.

Studies performed by the same category of people who will treat you in the emergency room, the same people you may fear will chastise you, have shown that the most crucial element affecting the survival of patients having a heart attack is how quickly the blocked arteries are reopened.

Did you catch that word survival?

We aren’t debating whether it’s silly to see your doctor for that little tickle in your throat; we’re talking about the stunning luxury of opening your eyes tomorrow morning.

It’s February, which is National Heart Month, which is associated with the Go Red campaign, which is all tongue-in-cheek because we also celebrate Valentine’s Day this month. Heart, red, get it?

Anyway, all of it is a great excuse to talk about things like heart attack recognition – messages we should be driving home all year long.

Ladies and gents, we modern Americans are an audacious bunch. We text, email, Tweet and yell about anything and everything.

Let’s use these guts for good, and speak up with, and for, our hearts.

Abigail Mackey is a registered nurse. For more quips and tips, refer to her blog, “The Written Remedy” (thewrittenremedy.blogspot.com). Abby can be reached at amackrn23@gmail.com or on Twitter at @AbigailMackeyRN.



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