Peninsula Health

Steve Bellinger Offering good information about heart attacks

ILWACO — February is the American Heart Association’s Heart Awareness month, so there’s no better time to talk about heart disease and heart attacks. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimated 785,000 Americans had their first heart attack in 2010 and an additional 470,000 who had a previous heart attack had yet another. If these numbers don’t catch your eye, consider this: 26 million Americans have heart disease and about every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. is having a heart attack.

   Despite this prevalence, many heart attack victims don’t recognize the initial symptoms. This symptom identity disconnect is important because the sooner a heart attack is recognized and treatment is started, the better the results. Often, heart attack symptoms go unheeded — dismissed as indigestion, stomach flu, or just not feeling well for a few days.  

While classic symptoms of a heart attack like chest pain or pressure in the left arm or jaw do occur, not everyone suffering a heart attack exhibits these signs. Nausea, shortness of breath, upper back pain, and abrupt unexplained fatigue also can be symptoms of a heart attack. Although diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase the risk, absence of these indicators does not eliminate it.

Early treatment is vital and early care is best accessed through the emergency medical system (EMS). If you think that you or someone around you is having a heart attack, don’t drive them to the hospital and most importantly, don’t drive yourself. Activate the EMS by calling 911 — MEDIX Ambulance will provide paramedic emergency medical services; both are augmented by trained volunteer emergency medical technicians from local fire departments. EMS crews perform testing that can help diagnose a heart attack. They also activate a system at Ocean Beach Hospital especially prepared for the heart attack victim. Calling 911 gets them to you and you to care faster and safer.  

Ocean Beach Hospital has established a streamlined connection with Providence St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Portland – one of the leading cardiac care centers in the Northwest — to care for heart attack victims.

When patients arrive at the hospital suffering a more severe form of heart attack called an ST-Elevated Myocardial Infarction or STEMI, emergency room physicians consult with St. Vincent’s experienced cardiology team to implement a customized care plan. This plan may range from the use of clot busting thrombolytic therapy to immediate transfer to St. Vincent’s and a waiting team of cardiac care specialists.  

The American Heart Association recommends STEMI patients undergo an angioplasty within 90 minutes of evaluation. If transportation time to a facility that can perform angioplasty exceeds 90 minutes, clot-busting drugs are administered.

A more common form of heart attack is the non-ST Elevated Myocardial Infarction or NSTEMI. This type of heart attack is not detected by heart monitoring EKG testing, but requires blood testing to determine if there is heart damage. Patients with a NSTEMI still are candidates for transfer to hospitals specializing in cardiac care, but the urgency is less than that of a STEMI.

The combined effort of Ocean Beach Hospital, Pacific County Fire District No. 1, and MEDIX Ambulance is saving lives on the Long Beach Peninsula. Remember that if you or someone you are with thinks they are having a heart attack, call 911 and help us help you.   


Steve Bellinger is a physician assistant at Ocean Beach Hospital and Medical Clinics in Ilwaco, and is medical director of their American Diabetes Association recognized diabetes education program. He also has volunteered in emergency medical services as an EMT/paramedic with Pacific County Fire District No. 1 for the last 25 years.     

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