The rule is simple: if you have chest pain, call 9-1-1. Don’t wait. Don’t be embarrassed. Because when it comes to saving your heart, doctors have a saying: “Time is Muscle.” The faster you get help, the more of your heart muscle can be saved.
Chest pain comes in many varieties, from a vague discomfort to the classic, crushing feeling of having an elephant sit on your chest. A heart attack can produce a searing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders and arms, especially your left arm. Or, it can come with anxiety, sweating and nausea.
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the United States, with 600,000 dying annually of heart disease. More than 5 million Americans visit hospitals each year with chest pain. Almost all patients with acute heart attacks began their medical care in an emergency department where the goal is to provide timely diagnosis and treatment to prevent further injury.
Fortunately, Solano County residents have easy access to an accredited Chest Pain Center. Located in the Emergency Department of NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield, the center has heart experts available 24 hours a day to diagnose and treat heart problems. The hospital earned a three-year accreditation from the Society of Chest Pain Centers in 2009, approving the ER’s use of clot-busting drugs to treat heart attacks. The goal of the Society of Chest Pain Centers is to significantly reduce the mortality rate caused by heart attacks by teaching the public to recognize and react to the early symptoms, to reduce the time that it takes to receive treatment, and increase the accuracy and effectiveness of treatment.
When the hospital seeks re-accreditation this summer, it will apply to become a chest pain center that offers PCI, meaning physicians and staff are trained to treat heart attacks with interventional procedures. NorthBay Medical Center will become one of just 10 hospitals in Northern California to earn this advanced accreditation, according to Dr. Jerry Kim, medical director of the Chest Pain Center.
“Earning accreditation means that we have the tools, processes and resources in place to rapidly and effectively treat a heart attack,” says Dr. Kim. “Patients who come to NorthBay for their cardiac care will have the best possible chance of optimal outcomes.”
The Chest Pain Center serves a broad part of Solano County, drawing patients from Vacaville to Vallejo. As the center’s reputation has grown, the center is seeing patients transferred from other counties for care.
When a patient with chest pain comes to NorthBay Medical Center, they will receive an EKG within 10 minutes, followed by an evaluation by an emergency physician. When the diagnosis is heart attack, a “Code STEMI” is called, activating the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab. STEMI stands for ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction—a major heart attack.
For the best outcome, the national average for time needed to treat a heart attack patient, from admission at the emergency department to opening the blocked artery, is 90 minutes. At NorthBay Medical Center, the average time is 47 minutes, whether it is 2 a.m. or 5 p.m.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard in the past three years to accomplish this,” Dr. Kim says. “We’re not only saving lives, we’re improving patients’ quality of life by getting them better, faster.”
Early Warning Signs
Heart attack symptoms can be vastly different between men and women. Knowing the difference could save your life because the faster you seek help, the more of your heart muscle can be saved.
Symptoms in Men
- Chest pressure, tightness, and heaviness
- Pain in shoulders, neck, jaw or arms
- Shortness of breath with or without chest pain
Symptoms in Women
- Extreme fatigue
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling sick to the stomach
- Feelings of anxiety
- A burning feeling in the chest
- Pain in the back, between the shoulders
- Pain or tightness in the chest that spreads to the jaw, neck, shoulders, ear or inside of arms
- Unusual headache