Heart attack symptoms?

Call an ambulance! Don't drive yourself to the hospital.

So you're experiencing what might be heart attack symptoms - a painful feeling in your chest, dizziness, nausea, and sweating. It's not going away and you think maybe you'd better go to the hospital.

A Canadian study found that about 40 percent of heart attack victims got to the hospital on their own - either by driving themselves or getting someone to drive them. Some even took the bus.

The study found that those who were more likely to drive themselves - or have family members drive them - were male, younger, and had no history of heart disease.

In my own case, when I awoke in the night with chest pain radiating into my arms and back, I woke my husband and said, "dear, I don't want you to worry but I'm having some chest pain and I'm going to drive myself over to the hospital to check it out."

Of course, he didn't let me drive myself - he took me instead. In retrospect I realize we should have called 9-1-1 but I didn't think it was that bad. I had no previous history of heart disease and although the symptoms suggested heart, I didn't think it was really happening.

Increase your chances of survival

By calling an ambulance you increase your odds of survival by getting care faster. Treatment can begin as soon as the medics arrive. Ambulances are equipped with defibrillators to deal with cardiac arrest. Many are able to perform an electrocardiogram right in the ambulance so that by the time you arrive at the emergency room, the doctor can immediately commence treatment. The medics will alert the hospital that you are coming in so there is no delay on arrival.

According to Madhu Natarajan, an interventional cardiologist at Hamilton Health Services in Ontario, Canada, "in the first hour of a heart attack, people are at risk of going into cardiac arrest. Blood flow to the heart muscle becomes blocked; the muscle, deprived of oxygen becomes irritable, and there's a chance you can get very fatal heart rhythms."

Driving to the hospital with heart attack symptoms isn't just a bad idea, it could be a matter of life and death. Anyone experiencing severe chest pain, pressure and/or shortness of breath should call 9-1-1 for an ambulance.

Safety first

Another big reason to not drive yourself is the risk to others. If you lose consciousness en route you endanger not only yourself, your vehicle, but anyone else in your path. Is that a risk you want to take?

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