We’ve seen it in movies — people collapsing, clutching their hearts after a heart attack. But what when it happens in real life? The truth is most people don’t know how to deal with it.
Nowhere close to what is shown in reel life, most heart attacks start slowly, with mild chest pain or discomfort. Often people affected are not sure what is wrong and wait too long before getting help.
Loss of time — according to experts doing very little during the first one hour after an attack usually — is the most common regret among heart specialists, as in more than 50% cases the patients have a greater chances of survival if they are brought to a hospital on time.
“An 80-year-old woman was rushed to our hospital late at night a few days ago as she suffered a cardiac arrest. The family had taken her to a couple of neighbourhood nursing homes before bringing her to our hospital. She was refused admission at both the nursing homes and by the time we received her it was too late. Her heart had collapsed and we couldn’t revive her,” says Dr Purshottam Lal, chief cardiologist, Metro Heart Institute, Noida.
“One must rush a patient straight to the closest hospital equipped to provide specialised care, saving critical time. Till the time hospital transport is arranged, it is advised to try cardio pulmonary resuscitation, an effective first line of treatment for heart attack,” he said.
Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, popularly known as CPR, is a life saver and ideally every person should have a basic knowledge of conducting CPRs.
“Even if one doesn’t know the correct way of giving a CPR, one must make an effort at least, as in absence of help the patient may be sinking anyway. Sometime even a chest thump works wonders,” added Dr Lal.
CPR must be performed on any person who seems to be unresponsive due to any reason ranging from a heart attack to a stroke, to being struck by lightning, electrocution, drowning or even snakebite, as it can be a life-saver if performed correctly and at the earliest.
Most experts recommend the CPR programme run by the American Heart Association (AHA), wherein emphasis is on CAB — restoring circulation by providing chest compressions, clearing airway and restoring breathing.
“Everyone should know that basic life support programme helps in resuscitation,” says Dr KK Talwar, chairman, cardiology, Max Healthcare.
It is estimated that more than 24 lakh people die in the country every year after a sudden cardiac arrest, of which nearly 18 lakh die before reaching the hospital.
Experts feel more than 12 lakh victims of sudden cardiac arrest could be saved if CPR is taught to even one per cent of the country’s population.
The question, however, is that how is an individual supposed to check for the signs of a heart attack? “If there’s pain in the upper part of the body — chest, neck, arms, back — which isn’t movement related, breathlessness, sweating or at times nausea, it could mean that the person is undergoing a heart attack and must be provided immediate care,” says Dr Anil Bhan, senior cardiac surgeon, heart institute-division of cardio thoracic and vascular surgery, Medanta Hospital.
One must try to rush the person to a hospital within one hour of the attack as anti-clotting medicines work the best during that period. “The idea is to save time. So if an ambulance is taking long to arrive, it’s not a bad idea to bundle up the patient in a car,” said Dr Talwar.
Deaths from heart attacks are going down (4%), owing to advances in treatment and more hospitals equipping themselves to deal with cardiac emergencies. Since nearly 20 lakh people do not make it to the hospital, learning basic life support should be a norm. “Basic CPR is easily learnt, easily taught and easily understood,” said Dr Talwar.