DR. PATRICK LYNCH
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, both men and women, and accounts for about 600,000 deaths every year.
By far, most “heart disease” is actually “coronary artery disease,” which is a blockage of one of the arteries that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the heart. When coronary artery disease becomes bad enough, one of these arteries can suddenly become completely blocked, causing a heart attack.
Every year, about 785,000 Americans have their first heart attacks and another 470,000 have repeat attacks.
Reduction of risk factors is the best way to prevent heart disease. One of the least complicated ways to do this is to quit smoking. This is not easy but there are many options available to help with quitting.
These include a number of different community resources and medications, both over-the-counter and prescribed by your doctor. Talk to your physician to get help when you’ve decided to quit. It’s also important to control high blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and lose weight. This can be done with diet, exercise, and sometimes with additional medications.
Diabetes, another big risk factor for heart disease, can also be prevented and better controlled with weight loss. However, once a heart attack starts, the very best way to save someone’s heart and someone’s life is to rapidly reopen the blocked artery.
A heart catheterization is the safest, fastest, and most effective way to find the blocked artery and to reopen it, often with a stent. Speed is the key.The faster the artery is opened, more heart tissue will survive, and the better a patient will do. The need for catheterization is determined by the diagnosis of a specific kind of heart attack, known as a ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). An ECG, which is the test that identifies this type of heart attack, is performed on all patients with chest pain and other patients at risk for a heart attack. Our average wait time for an ECG at CMC-Lincoln is much less than 10 minutes; we often get it done immediately upon arrival, often before registration or triage. This test is then read by the ER physician, frequently right away, but always within 10 minutes. If a STEMI is identified, we promptly make a call to activate the catheterization lab.
CMC-Lincoln is part of the Carolina HealthCare System’s Chest Pain Network. This network utilizes a system that makes every preparation for the swift transport of heart attack patients to Carolinas Medical Center. The Chest Pain Network results in an amazing 33 percent faster response time that the national average.
Because of it, after a single call by the ER physician at CMC-Lincoln to a cardiologist in Charlotte, the catheterization lab is activated and arrangements are made to transport the patient. Because of its speed, we often fly our patients out on helicopter with MedCenter Air directly to Charlotte.
At CMC-Lincoln we care about taking the best possible care of our patients. Every one of our Emergency Room Physicians is residency trained in Emergency Medicine. We know how to take care of heart attacks and we are part of a health care system that helps us to do everything we can to do this the best way possible.
The Carolina HealthCare System Chest Pain Network is just one example of this. We also have assistance from our wonderful colleagues at Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute in Lincolnton. They help us to care for our chest pain patient who need further work up and care but who are not suffering from a STEMI or in need of immediate catheterization.
Please help us to take care of you. Immediately call 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is having symptoms or a heart attack. These include:
Chest pain or discomfort
Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
Feeling weak, lightheaded, or faint
Shortness of breath
As always, it is a pleasure serving you.
Patrick Lynch, MD, is assistant medical director at the Carolinas Medical Center Emergency Department.