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The first 60 minutes: The critical period in heart attack treatment

How do you know you’re having a heart attack? For many people, it doesn’t happen as it does in the movies, with a quick grab to the chest and a slump to the floor. Symptoms of heart attack can be more subtle—and therefore confusing. Sometimes they even come and go. But it’s crucial to call 911 if you even suspect you’re having a heart attack, because every second counts. Clot-busting drugs and other artery-opening treatments, which can stop a heart attack and save your life, must be given within 60 minutes of the onset of symptoms to be most effective.

Unfortunately, too many people mistake heart attack warning signs for something else and delay calling for help. Others are embarrassed about “causing a scene” or aren’t willing to admit they may be experiencing a serious medical episode. If you experience any of the following symptoms, don’t wait—call for help immediately:

  • Chest discomfort. This may be in the center of the chest and feel like pressure, fullness or pain or as if someone were squeezing you.
  • Upper-body discomfort. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can occur before or with chest discomfort.
  • Nausea, sweating, light-headedness. These symptoms may or may not accompany other symptoms.

Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Coronary disease is the number-one killer in America. Why be just another statistic? Knowing what to do in an emergency might just save your life or the life of someone you love.

Fast fact

Most heart attack victims wait at least two hours after symptoms begin before even summoning medical help. Calling 911 within the first five minutes of heart attack symptoms can mean the difference between life and death.