If you want a sure-fire way to jump to the front of the line in a hospital, have a heart attack.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest, as it’s called, comes before almost everything else because time is so precious. The longer someone stays with their heart stopped, the slimmer their chances of survival get.
But, where do health care providers draw the line?
How do they know when the person isn’t coming back?
It turns out that there are no hard-and-fast rules for when to call it quits with a heart attack. And that’s mainly because a great many things have to be taken into account.
The common belief is that if a patient doesn’t respond quickly, it’s time to ‘call it.’
What if that belief was wrong?
“Don’t Give Up” Hospitals Save More Lives…
Medical researchers took a good look at 64,000 patients treated at 435 different hospitals all across the United States. Every patient looked at was treated for cardiac arrest between 2000 and 2008.
The first thing the researchers noticed was how different the resuscitation times were. Some hospitals would give up quickly. Others would keep trying.
Interestingly, the longer a hospital tried, the more likely it was for patients to come back.
Some hospitals justify stopping sooner by saying that the longer a patient is out for, the more brain damage and other complications there will be. And they’re right to some extent: having your heart stopped for a long time definitely causes more brain damage.
But, the study found that patients resuscitated after long efforts didn’t have significantly greater brain damage when compared to those patients that were resuscitated right away.
Did all this extra effort cost the hospital a lot more money in the long run?
Not really, actually. Researchers found that the added effort to save a patient from death-by-heart-attack didn’t consume much more resources. Overall, the data seems to show that trying for longer has the chance to save more lives.
… But Not Many More
Unfortunately, because of all the complications heart attacks cause, a great many patients don’t ‘make it’ even with the extra effort.
Matters of the heart are tricky, at best.
Of the patients that are treated for a heart attack in a hospital, less than 20% of them make it out the door again and back to their lives. Applied to the number of people in the study, you get less than 13,000 out of 64,000 who make it through.
The experts still need to decide on basic rules for handling heart attacks for themselves. And these rules will have to take into account the hundreds of other considerations heart attacks need.
But the research is there.
Don’t give up so easily, hospital workers. You might end up saving an extra life that day.
Hard to miss a heart attack, right?
We know the symptoms:
- Chest discomfort or pain, like a tight ache or pressure that you feel for more than a few minutes in your chest. The feeling can come and go.
- Pain other places in your body, like your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth, or even your jaw. Or, you may even feel heartburn.
- Feeling like you can’t breathe, and panting or trying to take deep breaths.
- A sense of panic that comes over you seemingly for no reason.
- Feeling light-headed, like you may pass out.
- Suddenly breaking out into a cold sweat.
- Nausea that can even cause vomiting.
So, with such a unique set of symptoms, most people would think that they’d know, 100% that they were having a heart attack or not.
But, that’s not the case.
How Frequent are Unrecognized Heart Attacks?
Research suggests that unrecognized heart attacks are even more common than recognized ones.
In a scientific study, researchers looked at 900 patients between the ages of 67 and 93. In this group, 91 people had heart attacks in the past that a doctor had diagnosed. Tests confirmed this.
Amazingly, the same tests confirmed that 157 patients showed clear signs of having a heart attack in the past, even though they didn’t realize it and never had it diagnosed.
Whether or not patients had diabetes was a clear risk factor. Those who had diabetes were more likely not to recognize their heart attacks.
So, are unrecognized heart attacks more frequent? According to this study, they are. According to doctor’s reports, only 10% of the 900 patients had suffered heart attacks.
But when you factor in unrecognized heart attacks, the percentage jumps to 27%.
Are Unrecognized Heart Attacks Milder?
Lots of factors can contribute to why some people didn’t have their heart attacks diagnosed. Maybe it passed on its own after some time. Maybe it just felt like a sudden bout of ‘not feeling well’ and went ignored.
But, in the study’s follow up, the results were the same.
Even if unrecognized heart attacks are milder, they still do significant damage.
Among those people who had a heart attack, any kind of heart attack, only about 70% survived 6 years after the study. Compare this to non-heart attack people who survived at a rate of 83%.
Statistically, this is a big enough gap to make a difference.
Researchers were careful to say that they do not recommend everyone to run out and get scanned for unrecognized heart attacks that happened in the past. The tests are expensive, and should only be done if you’re having symptoms.
If you do feel symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Even if they go away on their own. The risks are still there.