Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the United States, taking
600,000 lives each year. Formerly associated with middle-aged and older
men, heart disease is currently on the rise in women–most notably
in post-menopausal women where the rate of heart disease is between two
and three times higher than in pre-menopausal women of the same age. Many
are surprised to learn that it is coronary heart disease—not breast
cancer– that is the number one killer of women over the age of 25.
If you or someone you know experiences chest pain, call 911 and get to
a hospital immediately. Don’t take chances! It’s always wise
to seek evaluation– that’s why more than five million Americans
visit hospital’s every year with chest pain. But, as it turns out,
many patients who come to the Emergency Room experiencing apparent symptoms
of a heart attack are not actually having one.
So how is chest pain diagnosed?
“An important part of diagnosing chest pain is history,” says
FMH Chest Pain Center program coordinator Tom Shupp. “Learning about
the nature of the pain gives the healthcare team direction as to which
diagnoses are reasonable to consider, and which can be reasonably excluded.
Understanding the patient’s risk factors for heart disease—along
with the quality and quantity of the pain, and its associated symptoms–
help the care team assess the probability of what potential diagnoses
should be considered and which should be discarded.”
The FMH Chest Pain Center (CPC) is a dedicated clinical observation unit
for low-risk patients who come to the hospital with chest pain. Located
within the hospital’s 4th floor telemetry unit, the CPC uses a team approach with physicians and
staff to reduce time to treatment during the critical early stages of
a heart attack when treatment is most effective.
“Everyone knows their job and works together in a supportive, respectful
team environment to rapidly make decisions,” said FMH Chest Pain
Center Medical Director Dr. Mark Levangie. “Our staff has the highest
level of expertise, access to the most advanced technology and the best
tools available to care for patients in the event of a cardiac emergency.”
In addition, the FMH Chest Pain Center has demonstrated an ongoing commitment
to meeting or exceeding quality-of-care measures related to the care for
acute coronary syndrome patients including:
- Integrating the hospital’s emergency department with the local emergency
- Assessing, diagnosing and treating patients quickly.
- Effectively treating patients with low risk for acute coronary syndrome.
- Ensuring that all Chest Pain Center personnel are well-trained.
- Continually monitoring and improving its processes and procedures.
- Supporting community outreach and education about heart attack symptoms.
If you think you’re having a heart attack, don’t wait. If you
experience any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 or proceed to the
closest emergency room:
- Pressure, fullness, squeezing pain in the center of the chest, spreading
to the neck, shoulder or jaw
- Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath
- Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort
- Lower chest discomfort
- Back pain
- Unusual fatigue
- Unusual shortness of breath
Keep in mind that for women, the symptoms are just as dire, but are often
much more subtle (and easier to ignore):
- Chest discomfort – often described as pressure rather than acute
pain in women
- Discomfort in other parts of the body – one or both arms, the back,
jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath – with or without chest discomfort
- Cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness
To learn more about the Chest Pain Center and Heart Care at FMH, visit