Door to Balloon: What happens at the hospital when you have a heart attack?

What if you suddenly felt short of breath, felt a strange sensation coursing down your arm, and felt a weight on your chest? You would probably quickly realize that you could be having a heart attack. Much is said about the common signs of a heart attack (and not so common, like uncontrolled hiccups), and the differences between men and women, but do you know what happens next?

There is a standard within hospitals to treat heart attack patients within 90 minutes from the time they arrive at the hospital. This is called, “Door to Balloon.” Why balloon? Most often, patients with heart attacks have a blockage in one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. In order to restore proper blood flow back to the heart, cardiologists need to open the artery that is blocked. This is commonly done by angioplasty, which uses a “balloon” to widen the artery, and then, in most situations, inserting a stent to hold it open.

Let’s walk through the steps:

1. You realize that you are probably having a heart attack. Most people would then immediately call 911 and wait for the ambulance. The advantage of going to the hospital in an ambulance is that your medical care starts once the EMTs arrive at your door. They can quickly get EKG readings, which they can fax to the hospital before you even arrive. In addition, they can administer early treatments to relieve chest pain and stabilize your condition. If you go to the hospital by another means, the Emergency Department will go through the same process of performing an emergency EKG and stabilizing your condition.

You should never drive yourself to the hospital if you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Doing so could put you and others at great risk of injury if you lose consciousness at the wheel. Your time is better spent contacting 911 and taking a baby aspirin (if you have one).

2. Preliminary testing and treatment is done either in the ambulance or in the emergency department to help determine if you are having a heart attack. A cardiologist and/or emergency doctor will look at your EKG, indicate the next steps to take, and, if appropriate, direct you to the catheterization lab (or “cath lab”).

3. Once you are in the cath lab, the staff and the cardiologist will initiate standard procedures to find out where the blockage is and initiate treatment with angioplasty and stenting. The faster they can reopen blocked arteries causing the heart attack, the more heart muscle is saved and the better the long-term results. This is why those 90 minutes from Door to Balloon are so important.

Arnot Health has two cath labs at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira, NY. These state-of-the-art rooms include approximately $1.4 million worth of medical equipment. Plus, in collaboration with Columbia University Heart Network, the cath lab technicians are able to send images to other doctors for their expert opinions, as well.

You can learn more by visiting the Arnot Health Heart and Vascular Institute webpage.

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