Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack

As more and more individuals receive the COVID-19 vaccine, there is hope for returning to some old routines yet this year. In the meantime, we encourage everyone, including those who have received the vaccine, to wear a face covering, social distance and wash your hands frequently to help stop the spread of COVID-19. It is also extremely important to get the care you need for medical emergencies and not to delay getting care.

Since February is National Heart Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you of heart attack signs. Know that while some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body, and call 911 if you experience:

• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

• Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.

• Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Getting care quickly can make a big difference in treatment and recovery time. Please see below to read about Chief Hergenreter’s story and how timing was on his side.

Don’t Delay, Get Care Immediately

At 55, Steve Hergenreter has been working for the Fort Dodge Fire Department for 32 years. As fire chief, Hergenreter, has always been diligent about working out on a regular basis and eating healthy. Despite being in good shape, Hergenreter knew he better get to the hospital when he started having chest pain.

While at work, Hergenreter began a routine workout on the treadmill on Dec. 28, 2020. Not quite 15 minutes into the workout, just as he started to pick up the pace, he began to experience some chest pain, as well as pain in his left arm.

“This wasn’t normal, and I knew to stop immediately and head to the emergency room (ER) to be checked out,” Hergenreter said.

Arriving to the ER, Hergenreter was immediately taken back and had a thorough work up completed.

“Dr. Carzoli soon came into my room and told me that my EKG had abnormalities and he had called a STEMI alert, to pull team members together for a cardiac intervention.”

“At this moment I knew it was serious, but having close working relationships with the ER team and Iowa Heart, I felt a sense of comfort and confidence because I knew I was in good hands.”

All heart attacks are serious but STEMI, ST elevation myocardial infarction, is one of the most dangerous and requires quick assessment and treatment.

“Everything happened very, very fast. Faster than I even expected. I barely had time to call my wife to let her know what was happening,” Hergenreter says. “Even though everything happened fast, the process was seamless.”

Though Hergenreter did not know Dr. Joe Cookman personally, he had heard really good things about him, so yet again felt a sense of relief knowing he would be performing a coronary angioplasty. During this procedure, a balloon is inserted into the blocked artery, which allows blood to start flowing again.

“All went well, and my wife was waiting for me when I got out of the Cath Lab,” Hergenreter said.

Even with having a coronary artery 95 percent blocked, Hergenreter, spent one night in the Critical Care Unit (CCU) and was able to go home the following day.

“Everyone in the CCU were outstanding, I knew I was getting top medical care, but they also cared about me as a person,” Hergenreter said.

Hergenreter added, “From walking up to the ER triage, to the time the CCU nurse wheeled me out when I was going home, I was impressed with how competent and caring everyone was.”

Hergenreter is on the road to recovery and while you never hope to have a heart attack, he is grateful for the care he received and continues to receive at Cardiac Rehab.

Hergenreter concludes, “Take care of yourself. Eat healthy and exercise – do everything you can do to be preventative. If you have symptoms don’t wait, don’t delay for any reason. Call 9-1-1 or go to emergency department. Trinity has top notched physicians and cardiologists who can tell you what’s happening and provide great care.”

Heart Health Awareness Tips from Andrea Oswald, ARNP, Iowa Heart Center’s Prevention and Wellness Clinic:

1. Manage your blood pressure. it’s sometimes called “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms. Keep blood pressure below 120 over 80.

2. Control cholesterol. it’s the fat-like, waxy substance found in the bloodstream. l-d-l is the “bad” and h-d-l is the “good.” Keep total cholesterol less than 200.

3. Reduce blood sugar. adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke. keep fasting blood glucose less than 100.

4. Eat a heart healthy diet consisting of at least 4 servings of fruits and vegetables and at least 3 servings of fiber-rich whole grains per day

5. Exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day helps lower blood pressure, increases good cholesterol, controls blood sugar, reduces stress and controls body weight.

6. Stop smoking or using tobacco. Smokers have a higher risk of developing hardening of the arteries which can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

7. Lose weight. reduce your risk for heart disease by losing weight and keeping it off. too much fat – especially at your waist – means a higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

8. De-stress your heart. Stress raises blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. take time out each day to relax and breathe.

9. Eat a heart healthy diet consisting at least 2 servings of fish per week. Also keep sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day.

10. Know your risk. risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and family history of heart disease.

11. Know the warning signs of a heart attack. chest discomfort, shortness of breath, discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw or back, sweating, nausea or dizziness all may be signs. call 9-1-1 immediately if you believe you are having a heart attack.

Dr. Christopher Hill is the medical director of the Emergency Department at UnityPoint Health – Trinity Regional Medical Center.


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