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When a heart attack strikes, every minute counts. In the race against time, Atrium Health is more than 15 minutes faster than the national average at treating heart attacks, and has long defined the world-class standard of excellence.

Each year, an estimated 610,000 Americans have their first heart attack. Another 325,000 people will have a recurrent attack. In these life-threatening emergencies, it’s vital to know that rapid, advanced expertise is in your own backyard.

Atrium Health’s Chest Pain Network is dedicated to the rapid delivery of care for patients having chest pain or a suspected heart attack. And our care is backed by Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a high-performing hospital for heart attack – the highest rating awarded for this condition. Learn more about our outcomes.

What causes a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to a portion of the heart is blocked abruptly. In people with coronary artery disease, a buildup of a fatty substance (cholesterol) called plaque within artery walls leads to the development of atherosclerosis, stiffening and narrowing of the arteries. When a piece of plaque ruptures, a blood clot forms inside the artery, acutely stopping blood flow to that portion of the heart. That area of the heart then quickly begins to die. If not treated immediately, this is life-threatening.

Risk factors for heart attack

The main risk factors for heart attack include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • A family history of heart disease

While the average age for a heart attack is about 64 years for men and 70 years for women, men over age 45 and women over age 55 are at increased risk.

Heart attack symptoms

The most common symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Sudden pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath

Not all heart attacks come on suddenly or with dramatic symptoms. Sometimes symptoms develop slowly over several hours, or come and go. Many women have more subtle symptoms such as discomfort in the stomach, neck or back. Indigestion may also be a symptom of a heart attack.

Treating heart attacks fast through our Chest Pain Network

Every second counts for those experiencing a heart attack. Those arriving at an Atrium Health hospital receive the most skilled care in the fastest time possible, increasing their odds of survival and full recovery. Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute's “door-to-balloon time" (D2B) – the speed it takes to open the blocked artery – is among the nation's fastest, averaging 52 minutes, continuing a trend of having top D2B times for more than 20 years. From EMS personnel to expert specialists, our Chest Pain Network ensures the best available care when every minute really does count. Sanger is also consistently recognized by the American Heart Association for implementing quality improvement measures at a regional level for the treatment of severe heart attacks.

*Source - NCDR Cath/PCI Registry Data, 2019

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