Got Chest Pain? Get Help, Pronto!
Good thing the old Sanford and Son sitcom did not feature an ER with a chest-pain unit. Fred would have had even more trouble fooling his son Lamont with a fake heart attack.
People who have had real chest pain know it's not that easy to play it for laughs.
With heart disease the No. 1 killer of men and women, it's possible that chest pain signals a serious, even fatal, problem with your heart. Then again, it's possible the pain is just those enchiladas you had for supper.
What to do? That depends, but there's one thing you should not do if there is any chance your pain might be heart-related.
"Don't drive yourself to the hospital," said Tony Derrick, a nurse who is the director of emergency services at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, S.C.
What can cause chest pain? Heart trouble, of course, is one of the main things that must be considered.
About 1.1 million Americans have heart attacks every year, according to the National Institutes of Health. About 40 percent of those people die within an hour of noticing symptoms, before they even get to a hospital. Early symptoms might be followed by fibrillation -- erratic heart rhythms that can be fatal -- and that explains why Mr. Derrick doesn't want you driving yourself to the emergency room.
For those who do make it to the hospital, "time is muscle," Mr. Derrick said. That is, the faster you get medical attention, the lower your chance of suffering muscle damage that will incapacitate your heart or kill you.
Heart attack patients who receive care in a hospital with a chest-pain unit are 37 percent less likely to die, according to a study published in Circulation in 2004.