Behind the Scenes of a Heart Attack

Submitted by Dustin Harley, R.N. on December 13, 2018

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Learn What Any Hospital Should Do

Have you ever heard of “door-to-balloon time?”It's the critical amount of time it takes for a heart attack patient to get from an initial assessment in the ED to treatment (or to cardiac catheterization lab where treatment is received). It should be 90 minutes or less. During this time, an accredited Chest Pain Center should begin an intricate set of steps to guide treatment once they receive their patient.

Nurses rushing a man suffering from a Heart Attack

A heart attack patient’s journey first begins in the ambulance

  1. Electrocardiogram

    An electrocardiogram (a test that records the heartbeat rhythm) is given en route to the hospital. The results of this test are electronically sent to the on-call emergency physician.
  2. The "All Call"

    If the emergency physician determines that the patient is having a heart attack, the physician will activate an “all call,” which prepares the Emergency Department and Cardiac Catheterization Clinic team for the patient’s arrival.
  3. Patient Stabilized

    After an initial evaluation by the emergency medicine physician and a cardiologist, the patient is stabilized.
  4. Cardiac Catheterization Lab

    If necessary, the patient will be transported to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab for a coronary angiography. This is a rotational X-ray test that uses dye inserted through a catheter to determine if there are any blockages in the coronary arteries.
  5. Procedure is Performed

    If the technician finds a blockage, a “percutaneous coronary intervention” is performed. This is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that aims to clear blockages and blood clots. A coronary stent may be placed to widen the artery.
  6. Patient Recovery

    The patient will then recover from surgery in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Patients are usually up and about within an incredible eight-hour time span and can usually go home a few days later.

Learn the Signs of a Heart Attack

As a patient, it’s important to remain cognizant of heart attack symptoms, which are different for men and women. You can find more information and heart healthy tips at heart.org.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re experiencing any unusual and concerning abdominal discomfort, along with chest or jaw pain, seek medical care immediately. It’s your job to catch a heart attack early—the medical team will take care of the rest.

Dustin Harley, R.N. is the Cardiovascular Manager in the Cardiac Cath Lab at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.