Would You Know If You Were Having a Heart Attack?
Call 911 Immediately
Say forcefully that you think you're having a heart attack. Don't worry about being wrong. There's a limited window of time to get the full benefit of such potentially lifesaving therapies as clot-busting drugs and balloon angioplasty (threading a balloon-tipped catheter through a vessel in your arm or leg to the blockage, then inflating the balloon to widen the clogged area). Sometimes a wire scaffold called a stent is also used to prop the vessel open. "If balloon angioplasty gets the artery open in the first hour after the heart attack, it can almost always prevent permanent heart damage," says Timothy D. Henry, MD, director of research at the Minneapolis Heart Institute. "And if we can do it within 90 minutes of the onset of symptoms, that's usually fast enough to limit the severity of most heart attacks." Yet many women wait two or more hours. Bad move. "You risk your life by delaying," says Michael Cuffe, MD, chief medical officer of the Duke University Health System. "Not only do your chances of sudden death go up, but even if you survive the attack, you could be left with such severe heart damage that it leads to death over the next six to 12 months."