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When to Call 911

Doctor Q&A

It might be a heart attack - It might be a stroke - It’s definitely time for 9-1-1

Because minutes matter in the event of a heart attack or stroke, you may be tempted to drive yourself to the Emergency Department (ED).  Don’t! Time is Muscle (heart muscle) in a heart attack, and Time is Brain Tissue in the event of a stroke.  Call 911!

What 9-1-1 Does for You:  

Emergency care begins when the ambulance arrives. Think of it this way: When an ambulance arrives, it is like bringing the ED to you. 

    It means the following:

  • If a heart attack is suspected, the medical team can perform a diagnostic EKG and administer life-saving medications en route to the hospital, providing treatment your loved one cannot
  • You’ll get to the hospital faster
  • You’ll bypass the normal check-in procedure
  • Upon arrival, you will immediately transfer to the hands of ED professionals who have been updated on your condition by the ambulance personnel.

SMH has heart attack and stroke protocols in place to quickly diagnose or rule out these life-threatening events.

Not only is Shawnee Mission Health the area’s first accredited chest pain center, but it is also recognized by the American Heart Association as a Mission Lifeline Gold Plus STEMI (heart attack) receiving center. 

And in the case of a suspected stroke, time is crucial as it relates to the success of your treatment. A CT scan will be performed within minutes of your arrival to check for bleeding or a clot that is disrupting blood flow and oxygen to your brain.

Please call 9-1-1 if you have any of these symptoms:

Heart Attack 

  • Chest pain, which may include tightness, squeezing, aching or crushing pain
  • Spreading pain from the chest to the jaw, neck, back or down one or both arms
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
  • Paleness, sweating or overall weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting, heartburn or indigestion.

It’s important to note that although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, many start with mild pain or discomfort.

There is a difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.

A heart attack is defined as damage to part of the heart, caused by inadequate blood flow, most often due to blockage in one of the heart’s arteries.

Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem that occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, causing it to beat rapidly and chaotically, or to stop beating altogether. Blood stops circulating to the brain, lungs and other organs, and the patient becomes unresponsive within seconds.

Do not let terms like “mild heart attack” negate the severity of your symptoms. A heart attack is a common cause of cardiac arrest. Delaying attention to your symptoms can lead to cardiac arrest.

Stroke

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden blurred vision, or trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

If you are near someone you suspect is having a stroke, use this acronym as a screening tool and act FAST: 

FAST

Face - Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or otherwise strange?

Time – Note the time of the first symptom. This information is important in affecting treatment decisions. 

The Folly in Self-Diagnosing

The high-tech and fast-paced world we live in, as well as the rising cost of medical care, keeps many of us from seeking professional medical help.

We’re too busy to see a doctor, it’s expensive and the denial factor is huge –why make a big deal out of something that is probably nothing – right?

So naturally, we do what nearly 70 percent of American adults in the same situation do – we turn to the internet for health advice.

And although some of this advice is credible, much online “information” is actually misinformation.

There is no substitute for fast, high-quality medical care when your life is on the line. 

You likely won’t regret calling for an ambulance, but you or your loved ones most certainly could regret NOT calling in the event of a heart attack or stroke.

Our advice? CALL 9-1-1. It could save your life.