Heart-related deaths increase at the holidays – what you need to know

(BPT) – Heart-related deaths peak in December and January, including spikes on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some people ignore the signs and symptoms of a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, or they dismiss their chest pain or other symptoms as stress-related, heartburn or a result of having too much to drink. Others may fail to act because they are worried about “ruining” a holiday with a trip to the emergency room.

This winter, we also find ourselves amid a worsening spike of COVID-19. Hospitals continue to report a decline in patients seeking care for cardiac issues.

While some hospitals are reinstituting delays in elective procedures, treatment for a serious heart issue should not be elective – even during a pandemic. Those who do not immediately seek treatment for an emergency cardiac event may suffer damage that could have been prevented with earlier attention.

Some common symptoms may indicate a bigger issue. Heart attack symptoms include severe pain in the chest area, massive tightness in the heart area, burning behind the breastbone, sweating, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. Heart rhythm symptoms include palpitations, dizziness, lightheadedness or passing out. These conditions could signal an issue with your heart that may require critical care. (Learn more about common symptoms that could indicate a problem with your heart.)

Dave Twellman, 75, of Cary, North Carolina, listened to his heart symptoms and sought follow-up care, even in the middle of a pandemic. Listening to his symptoms saved his life.

One evening, as he was getting ready for bed, he experienced pain in his chest. He first thought it was an ulcer or heartburn but very quickly realized it was something much more serious.

‘I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t something that an antacid was going to fix,’ Twellman said. ‘It was severe chest pain.’

His wife called the local hospital to ask what they should do because of the coronavirus pandemic. Upon hearing the symptoms Twellman was experiencing, they advised him to go immediately to the emergency room.

According to an op-ed from the American Heart Association and other leading cardiology societies, ‘If you or a loved one experiences heart attack warning signs … call 911.’ The piece also advised, ‘The bottom line is the same as it’s always been. When a medical emergency strikes, call 911. Get to a hospital.’

Thankfully Twellman did. He was having a massive heart attack. A blockage was stopping the flow of blood to parts of his heart, and he required an emergency procedure. A stent was placed in Twellman’s heart to restore blood flow, and he spent 10 days in the hospital.

The procedure was successful, but the heart attack had caused damage to Twellman’s heart muscle. His doctors assessed that Twellman’s poor heart function put him at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Before discharging him, they recommended he receive a LifeVest® wearable cardioverter defibrillator (WCD) for protection from SCA. (Learn more about the LifeVest WCD.)

SCA is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a failure of the heart’s electrical system triggers a dangerously fast heartbeat, causing the heart to quiver or shake instead of pumping blood to the body and brain. Unlike a heart attack, SCA often happens without warning. Without treatment, death can occur in minutes.

The most effective treatment for correcting a dangerously fast heartbeat is a defibrillation shock to restore a normal heart rhythm. LifeVest is designed to continuously monitor a patient’s heart and, if certain life-threatening heart rhythms are detected, deliver a treatment shock to restore normal heart rhythm.

Approximately eight weeks after his heart attack, Twellman experienced SCA while he was at home, abruptly losing consciousness. LifeVest detected a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm and automatically delivered a treatment shock that saved his life.

The decision to seek emergency care, even during a pandemic, was lifesaving for Twellman – twice. His doctors were able to perform a critical procedure to address his heart attack and then assess that he needed additional protection from SCA with LifeVest. Wearing LifeVest while he was at home knowing he was at risk was critical. ‘It saved my life,’ Twellman said.

Learn more about the LifeVest WCD.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms of a heart attack or other cardiac event, you may need emergency care. Follow up with your doctor or go to the emergency room. Do not delay seeking treatment because of COVID-19 concerns. Your health is too important.

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