Guest Column

When should you go to the hospital for a heart issue?


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Unfortunately, many patients aren’t aware when they or a loved one are having a heart emergency. Don’t ignore the signs of a cardiac event — even the subtle ones. Learn when to take quick action to visit the hospital or dial 911.

Subtle Symptoms of Heart Issues

Chest pressure, which may or may not spread to the neck or left arm, is the most classic symptom of coronary artery disease. However, many patients don’t realize that symptoms like nausea, sweating, indigestion, heartburn and lightheadedness can be some of the first signs of a heart attack, particularly when worsened by physical exertion.

While many of these symptoms are common and may represent non-cardiac diseases such as heartburn or reflux, it is important to take note when you have new, different sensations that you are not used to experiencing. If you or a loved one begins to experience such symptoms, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or cardiologist to get checked out.

When to Call 911: Signs of a Heart Emergency

If the above symptoms are severe or persist at rest, consider visiting an emergency department. In the case of any distress, such as severe respiratory difficulty or severe lightheadedness, call 911.

Other important symptoms of a cardiac emergency may include sudden vision loss, mental confusion, difficulty walking and balancing or a severe headache. Shortness of breath, nausea, cold sweats, lightheadedness and an uncomfortable sense of danger may also be present.

When it comes to heart attack (or myocardial infarction) and stroke, you must seek immediate medical attention. These conditions can be reversed or limited in severity by prompt treatment. In both cases, there is impairment to the heart or brain. Restoring blood flow can prevent brain damage and lead to a vastly better outcome, but this needs to be done as soon as possible.

When to Go to the Hospital for an Extended Atrial Fibrillation Episode

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a heart rhythm condition that affects millions of Americans. The condition itself may or may not produce significant symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include an irregular heartbeat or palpitations, lightheadedness or dizziness, fatigue, chest discomfort and even a sudden inability to exercise.

If you know you have AFib and experience an episode, in many cases, you do not need to go to the hospital. Ensure you have taken your medications, following all instructions from your doctor. Then sit down, rest and wait 12 or more hours for your symptoms to settle. Because heart rate rises sharply with exertion, resting may keep the heart rate lower and lessen the severity of symptoms. However, if you still do not feel better, call your doctor, who may want to adjust your medications. If your symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, you are in distress (severely short of breath, significantly lightheaded, sweaty, etc.), and you cannot reach your doctor, it is reasonable to visit the hospital.

Take Control of Your Heart Health

When it comes to your heart health, prevention is key. Some heart conditions, like atrial fibrillation, may not cause any symptoms at all. That’s why maintaining annual check-ups is important to catch heart disease before it progresses. Remember, never ignore the symptoms of a heart issue. When in doubt, it’s best to be cautious and visit the hospital or call 911. Doing so could save your life.

Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and Chief of Cardiology at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty in treating Atrial fibrillation, visit or call 904-388-1820.

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