Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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In a Heart or Stroke Emergency, Dial 911 – Don’t Drive


By the American Heart Association, Midwest Affiliate

How many times have you felt like something wasn’t right, but you didn’t want to bother anyone by seeking medical attention? Have you ever felt pain and thought, “Oh, it’s probably nothing?” A heart attack can be a life-and-death emergency, and even if you feel like it may be nothing, not taking action can result in death or disability.

Every moment that a person delays in getting medical treatment increases likelihood of damage, death to heart muscle or severe brain damage, and disability from a stroke. That’s because there is a blockage that hinders blood flow to a portion of the heart or brain, so it’s being deprived of the oxygen it needs. Remember that delay can be deadly.

A person who is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke should seek medical attention within five minutes, even if unsure that it’s a heart attack or a stroke. The best way to get help is by calling 9-1-1 promptly.

Why call 9-1-1 instead of driving yourself or having a loved one drive you?

• In nearly all cases, it’s the fastest way for heart attack and stroke victims to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) providers can begin diagnosis and treatment when they arrive on the scene, which can be up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car.
• EMS personnel have the training and equipment that are often effective in reversing cardiac arrest. Imagine if you were suffering a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest while driving yourself or while a loved one was driving you.
• Many ambulances are equipped with 12-lead electrocardiograms (ECGs), which help diagnose a heart attack and differentiate between a STEMI, the most deadly type of heart attack which is caused by the sudden, total blockage of a coronary artery, and a non-STEMI event. In Illinois, EMS organizations and the American Heart Association have worked actively to increase the number of 12-lead ECGs, which improves outcomes for patients in Central Illinois.

Equipped with information from an ECG, EMS know whether the patient should be taken to a hospital that is able to administer PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention), also referred to as heart catheterization or angioplasty, or if they should go to the non-PCI hospital that is closer. 
• Patients experiencing chest pain who arrive by ambulance rather than by car usually receive faster treatment at the hospital. There are protocols in place that help heart attack patients to bypass the ER and go straight to the catheterization lab for treatment. In the case of a stroke, the hospital may be able to provide tPA, a clot-busting drug that can only be given within a short window of time from the onset of symptoms.

Unfortunately, approximately 50 percent of patients who have experienced STEMI arrive at their local emergency department (ED) by driving themselves or having someone else take them by car. STEMI patients who walk in to the ED rather than arriving by ambulance hinder their own patient registration, quick triage to receive an ECG, and ECG privacy. Furthermore, by not activating 9-1-1, heart attack and stroke patients don’t give the hospital staff advance warning of their arrival, which may lead to delays in treatment.

Know the Signs of a Heart Attack and a Stroke

Call 911 immediately if you may be suffering the symptoms of a heart attack:
• 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.

When it comes to detecting the symptoms of a stroke, remember the acronym FAST:
• F – Face drooping
• A – Arm numbness
• S – Speech difficulty
• T – Time to call 911 if you are experiencing any or all of those symptoms.

For more information on heart attack and stroke, visit or

Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Thinkstock