Hospital News

Heart attacks, stroke and Hypertension


The February 2020 UPMC Western Maryland Population Health Focus is Heart Attack, Stroke and Hypertension.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, happens when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle. Coronary artery disease is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm, or sudden contraction, of a coronary artery that can stop blood flow to the heart muscle.

What are the symptoms of heart attack?

The 5 major symptoms of a heart attack are Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat. Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders. Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.

Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting.

Call 9-1-1 if you notice symptoms of a heart attack.

If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. The sooner you get to an emergency room, the sooner you can get treatment to reduce the amount of damage to the heart muscle. At the hospital, health care professionals can run tests to find out if a heart attack is happening and decide the best treatment. In some cases, a heart attack requires cardiopulmonary resuscitation or an electrical shock to the heart to get the heart pumping again. Bystanders trained to use CPR or a defibrillator may be able to help until emergency medical personnel arrive. Remember, the chances of surviving a heart attack are better the sooner emergency treatment begins.

What are the risk factors for heart attack?

Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking.

Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

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A stroke is a sudden disorder of the blood supply to the brain, which can cause irreversible damage and disability. Time is critical when treating strokes.  It is always important to identify when the symptoms started.  Sometimes treatment may cause harm if given too late. Because treatment is time sensitive and there are many causes of stroke, always ask to be treated at a certified stroke treatment center.

B.E. F.A.S.T. is a way of thinking about signs of stroke. It is also meant to remind us to act quickly when stroke is suspected. Remember, a stroke is an emergency. If a stroke is suspected, call 911.

B.E. F.A.S.T.

B: Balance – sudden loss of balance, staggering gait, severe vertigo

E: Eyes – sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, onset of double vision

F: Face – uneven or drooping face, drooling, ask the patient to smile

A: Arm (leg) – loss of strength or sensation on one side of the body in the arm and/or leg

S: Speech – slurring of speech, difficulty saying words or understanding what is being said, sudden confusion

T: Terrible headache (time) – very severe headache which has maximum intensity within seconds to a minute

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High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death for Americans. High blood pressure is also very common. Tens of millions of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, and many do not have it under control. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so the only way to know if you have it is to get your blood pressure measured. Talk with your health care team about how you can manage your blood pressure and lower your risk.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Your blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers: The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, “120 over 80,” or write, “120/80 mmHg.”

What are normal blood pressure numbers?

A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg.

What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Your blood pressure changes throughout the day based on your activities. Having blood pressure measures consistently above normal may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure (or hypertension).

The higher your blood pressure levels, the more risk you have for other health problems. Your health care team can diagnose high blood pressure and make treatment decisions by reviewing your systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels and comparing them to levels found in certain guidelines.

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