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Published on December 08, 2016

Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms Require a Quick Response

Importance of Calling 911Time is critical when it comes to treating a heart attack or stroke. If you experience the warning signs of either of these serious medical events, call 911 immediately.

When an otherwise healthy 59-year-old Greensboro woman suddenly lost her balance and the ability to speak a few months ago, her family recognized the symptoms of a stroke and dialed 911. Emergency responders whisked her to The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital’s emergency department (ED), where she received the intravenous clot-busting drug tPA. However, she didn’t improve and was transferred to the hospital’s angiography suite for emergent removal of the clot from her brain—all within an hour.

Had her family’s response been any slower, it's unlikely the woman would have been able to walk out of the hospital on her own, as she did three days later.

"If her family waited, she probably would have required around-the-clock care for the rest of her life," says Jason Clum, Cone Health's system-wide stroke program coordinator. (Read “From stroke to recovery in about four hours” for the full story.)

This case illustrates why it's crucial to dial 911 immediately when symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke surface instead of taking a wait-and-see approach or driving yourself or a loved one to the hospital.

“Brain tissue dies rapidly when a stroke cuts blood flow to the brain," says Dr. Pramod Sethi, neurologist and medical director of Cone Health's Stroke Center. "We urge people to act immediately when they identify stroke symptoms by calling 911."

Arriving via emergency medical service (EMS) allows the patient to bypass the usual ED triage process and be seen immediately by providers who have been prenotified and are there waiting, all of which saves precious time.

Similarly, when it comes to heart attacks, the longer it takes to receive treatment the more heart tissue is irreparably damaged. When you call 911 immediately, outcomes improve.

Research shows that stroke patients who arrive at hospitals via an EMS that notifies the hospital are evaluated faster and are more likely to receive brain imaging and have it interpreted by a physician in a timely manner than those arriving by private transport.

In cases of stroke or heart attack, that timing can be the difference between speedy recovery and long-term disability or death. EMS responders are trained to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke and to monitor glucose, cardiac arrhythmias or elevated blood pressures. They can start peripheral IVs and administer IV fluids on the way to the ED so treatment can begin immediately upon arrival.

As the medical director of the Stroke Center at The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, Dr. Sethi collaborates with a team of nurses, neurologists and interventional radiologists available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to treat acute stroke patients. It’s important to quickly assess symptoms of a heart attack or stroke so you can immediately call 911. Dr. Sethi and his staff suggest remembering the acronym FAST to recognize a stroke:

Face: Sudden weakness of the face
Arms: Sudden weakness of an arm
Speech: Sudden difficulty speaking
Time: Record the time the symptoms started

Contrary to the conventional image of heart attacks, most heart attack victims start with only mild pain and aren't sure they’re having a heart attack. Signs of a heart attack include: 

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or is intermittent 
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach 
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort 
  • A cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness or unusual fatigue

Never hesitate in the case of any of the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. Waiting to call 911 can be a deadly mistake.

Award-Winning Heart Attack Treatment and Stroke Care

Cone Health is a leader in the emergency treatment of stroke. Cone Health’s exceptional stroke care, especially at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, has been recognized with numerous awards in 2016 including the Five-Star HealthGrades rating for treatment of stroke, a CareChex rating in the top 10 percent in the nation for patient safety for stroke, and the Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Gold Plus and Target: Stroke Elite Plus Honor Roll Award.

Cone Health was also recognized as having the nation’s lowest readmission rate for heart attack patients in 2016—a ranking based on data provided by more than 4,000 hospitals to the U.S. government’s Hospital Compare website.