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Along with the holidays comes a rise in heart attacks, sometimes referred to as a “Christmas Coronary” or a “Hanukkah Heart Attack.”

Heart attacks are “plumbing” issues in the heart in which one or more blood vessels, called coronary arteries, become blocked, typically by a clot, and resulting in a loss of vital blood flow to the heart muscle. If the blockage is not cleared, the heart muscle will start to die and in some cases, the heart will stop beating and result in cardiac arrest and death.

In fact, 1 million Americans will have a heart attack each year and nearly 500,000 will die. Half of those who die will expire before even reaching a hospital.

Early symptoms are often ignored, and this puts people at risk for significant damage to the heart muscle, even death. Heart attacks have “beginnings” that can occur weeks before the actual attack. Be aware of pressure, not necessarily pains in the chest. Don’t try to rationalize it away as something else. Your body, like the engine in your car, is trying to tell you something is wrong.

Don’t wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body — and call 9-1-1 if you feel:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Symptoms can vary between men and women. In women, the most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but females are somewhat more likely than men to experience other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw discomfort.

Uncertain it’s a heart attack? Have it checked out! Don’t wait, and don’t go by car! Call 9-1-1.

Act in time! Do it for yourself; do it for your family.

David Hiltz


The writer is a member of the HEARTSafe Charlestown-Westerly HEARTSafe Committee, which focuses on communitywide interventions to effectively increase survival and improve outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest and other acute cardiovascular emergencies.

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