“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”.
-Jason Magallanes, National Training and Development Manager
When it comes to first aid, keeping up on your skills and new information is crucial. If you aren’t performing CPR daily or assisting someone who’s having a stroke (which most of us aren’t), the training can quickly and easily be forgotten. But that means when it is time to step in during an emergency, what will you remember?
We want to help keep first aid and lifesaving skills at the top of your mind, so we have created an eight-part mini-series that will appear once a month to do just that. Our first few topics were emergency scene management, severe bleeding, broken bones, and CPR. This month’s topic is Heart Attacks and Strokes.
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack is when damage is caused to the heart by a loss of blood supply due to blocks in the arteries. There are different severities, but they are oftentimes life-threatening.
The most common symptoms include:
- Pain in arm or jaw
- The feeling of indigestion
- Pale skin
- Nausea and fatigue
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath and dizziness
Symptoms can last for several days or even weeks. The main goal for medical professionals is to prevent further damage to the heart and restore blood flow.
What is Angina?
Angina is when a person feels discomfort in their chest or shortness of breath due to the heart receiving insufficient oxygen-rich blood. It’s very common among Canadians and often is confused with having a heart attack (more on that later). It can be dangerous or life-threatening if left untreated.
Symptoms of Angina include:
- Pain or pressure in the centre of chest
- Feels like indigestion
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick
The Difference between Angina and a Heart Attack
A First Aider often has trouble differentiating between Angina and a Heart Attack as both have similar symptoms. They are also a sign of a progressive illness that can lead to cardiac arrest. Both are also a result of the heart not getting enough oxygen, which could be caused by the arteries that supply the heart being narrowed by deposits or clots.
While Angina and a Heart Attack can be treated in a similar fashion at first, that treatment differs once the cause is determined.
How to treat Angina:
- Have the person stop what they are doing and sit them down.
- The best position is on the floor with their knees bent and head and shoulder supported.
- Ask if they have medication or if this has happened before.
- If pain persists for five more minutes, call 9-1-1.
- If the pain has stopped within 15 minutes, they are usually able to go back to what they were doing and follow up with a medical professional at a later date.
How to treat a Heart Attack:
- Call 9-1-1.
- Sit or lie the person down and loosen any clothing.
- Have the casualty chew and swallow Aspirin.
- This is only if they have some on hand. Do not provide them with it. This only pertains to Aspirin and Tylenol and Advil cannot be substituted.
- Monitor symptoms and pulse.
- Begin CPR if the casualty goes unconscious and isn’t breathing.
Using ‘The Chain of Survival' is a good way to remember your duties as a First Aider, which includes five basic steps:
- Advances Life Support
- Medical Care
A certified First Aider will also be familiar with the term ‘The Golden Hour’. This means if the casualty receives medical assistance within or under an hour, there is a higher chance for a full recovery.
What is a Stroke or TIA?
A stroke or CVA (Cerebrovascular Accident) occurs when, like angina or heart attack, an artery is blocked, though a stroke is most often caused by a clot rather than the narrowing of the arteries. It could also be caused by a ruptured artery that leads to bleeding in the brain, which usually is accompanied by a headache. The signs and symptoms will depend on which part of the brain is not getting enough oxygen.
Like a Stroke, a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) occurs when a part of the brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. The signs and symptoms will be the same as a stroke, but with the TIA, they will go away within minutes or hours.
Symptoms of a Stroke or TIA:
- Facial droop
- Slurring of words
- Numbness of weakness
- Inability to speak or swallow
- Not permanent, signs and symptoms go away (for TIA only)
As a First Aider, as long as a person is showing the signs of either a Stroke or TIA, they will need medical attention.
To help recognize a Stroke or TIA, remember the acronym FAST:
- Facial Droop
- One side of the face will be slack
- You’ll want to look at the face, is it symmetrical, is one side slack, can the person smile?
- Arm Drift
- One arm will be weaker
- Have the person squeeze your fingers with both hands. Is the pressure the same, is one side less? Can they push on your hands with their feet if they are in bed, can both feet push on your hands equally?
- Speech will be slurred or they will be unable to speak
- Important to get help quickly
- If a casualty is having a stroke, the faster that casualty gets to medical help, the sooner they can be treated. Faster treatment also means there is the possibility that they will recover all functions.
How to treat a Stroke:
- Call 9-1-1 or call for help.
- Ensure the person is in a safe and comfortable position.
- Check to see if they are breathing. If not, start CPR. If they are having trouble breathing, loosen any tight clothing.
- Cover them with a blanket to keep them warm.
- Do not give them food or water.
- Continue to observe their condition until medical help arrives.
As First Aiders, what’s important to remember is that we must do the best we can with the skills we have been trained with. Can we be unsuccessful? Yes, there is that chance that our efforts won’t help, but trying instead of not responding gives the casualty a higher chance of survival.