During American Heart Month, West Virginians Urged to Pay Attention to Chest Pain

Nadia Ramlagan

February is American Heart Month, and experts said it is important to know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.

According to UnitedHealthcare, heart attacks occur when clogged arteries block blood flow to the heart, while cardiac arrest means the heart is not beating any more because of an electrical malfunction and subsequent abnormal heartbeat.

Dr. George Sokos, associate chief of cardiology and professor of medicine at West Virginia University, emphasized people should not ignore chest pain or breathing problems, or be afraid to be evaluated by their doctor.

“We really want early diagnosis, because we’re able to do more for them earlier and prevent bad things from happening on down the line,” Sokos explained.

Nearly 5,000 West Virginians in 2017 died from heart disease, which can lead to heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For both conditions, it’s best to call 911 and immediately perform CPR, which involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing.

Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, said starting CPR quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

“You can start to have brain death within about three minutes or so and irreversible damage within eight minutes after the heart stops beating,” Johar explained. “If you can start something prior to that, there’s a tremendous chance of improvement, and almost a miraculous improvement in many cases.”

According to the American Heart Association, people performing high-quality CPR should apply chest compressions of adequate rate and depth and minimize interruptions, avoiding leaning on the person, ensure proper hand placement, and avoid excessive ventilation.