The heart attack e-mail: Fact or fiction?

October 27, 2009 3:23:55 PM PDT
The viral e-mail claims to be a guide for treating heart attacks in the middle of the night. With middle aged women having a rising number of heart attacks according to a recent study, both sexes might want to pay attention to a viral e-mail claiming to guide therapy in the middle of the night.

But is the information fact or fiction?

The e-mail is headlined "why keep aspirin by your bedside?"

A good question, really, as many don't know about sleep time heart attacks, but the information needs a closer look. For example, sixty percent of deaths from heart attacks in the middle of the night? That's exaggerated.

"The mortality is somewhere around five percent, at the most ten percent," Dr. Franz Messerli of St. Luke's Hospital.

Now fact or fiction? Dissolve an aspirin under the tongue if you think you're having a nighttime heart attack?

Aspirin thins the blood and can prevent the expansion of a clot that's blocking a heart artery. The faster aspirin gets into the bloodstream the better, so it's best to chew and swallow the pill.

You have to look hard at the drugstore for a plain old white aspirin tablet as most aspirin is coated nowadays. If you don't have a standard white aspirin, chew one of the coated ones. It'll work as well.

After the aspirin, should you "call a neighbor?" Only if you live where there are no emergency medical services, such as your mountain hideaway.

Follow what Antonio Rosario did six years ago, when he had five heart attacks in one day.

"The last was a massive one and i called 911," he said.

Yes, call 911, and then sit down near the front door.

What about the e-mail's advice "do not lie down?"

"Obviously, the closer to the front door you are, the easier you are to find if something goes wrong. Otherwise, if in the sitting or recumbent position, I don't think this has any major impact," Messerli said.

The e-mail does make an important point that chest pain or pressure and pain in the left arm are just common symptoms of a heart attack. Someone can have jaw pain, severe nausea and profuse sweating.

Probably the most important take home message is call 911. The faster you get care, the lesser the damage to the heart.

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