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What Is a STEMI Heart Attack?

What Is a STEMI Heart Attack?

All heart attacks are serious, but an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) heart attack is the most severe. Between 2.5 to 10 percent of people who have one die within 30 days. Mainly affecting the heart’s lower chambers, STEMIs get their name for the way they change the electrical currents traveling through them.

If you or someone you’re with appears to have a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Any delay can lead to permanent damage to the heart or death.

Why Is a STEMI So Deadly?

A STEMI is a very serious heart attack where one of the heart’s major arteries is blocked. It can be a life-threatening event. From your arrival at the hospital until the heart’s blocked artery is opened should be just 90 minutes, so the entire cardiac team must work together very quickly. Time is crucial; the longer the heart muscle is without oxygen due to the blocked artery, the worse the outcomes can be.

The main difference between a STEMI and other heart attacks is the total blockage of the artery and the heart muscle dying. That’s why STEMIs are so dangerous—your heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of your body. Non-STEMI heart attacks usually involve an artery with partial blockage. This doesn’t cause as much damage to the heart.

The causes of STEMIs include:

  • Diabetes
  • Drugs and excessive alcohol
  • High blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Overexertion
  • Plaque buildup in arteries
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Know the Signs

The signs of a STEMI are very similar to most heart attacks. Never ignore the symptoms—call 911 immediately if you experience:

  • Tightness, squeezing, pain, or pressure in your chest that doesn't go away after a few minutes, or stops and returns
  • Pain or discomfort in your arms, neck, jaw, back, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A cold sweat

Remember that heart attacks look slightly different for women. Heart attack symptoms women should look out for include:

  • Insomnia, fatigue, or shortness of breath that starts before the heart attack
  • Pain that spreads (or radiates) through the back, shoulders, jaw, neck, arms, or belly
  • Nausea and vomiting

How Frederick Health Treats STEMIs

Treating a STEMI is all about time. The faster the treatment, the better the chances of survival and recovery.

Frederick Health is a recipient of the Mission: Lifeline® Receiving Center Gold STEMI Award and Mission Lifeline® Receiving Center Gold NSTEMI Award from the American Heart Association. This award recognizes our prompt, quick, reliable treatment for STEMI heart attacks.

We have treated more than 2,000 STEMI patients. From the initial 911 call through discharge, Frederick Health’s approach to comprehensive patient care follows evidence-based treatment guidelines. It begins with an EMS or ED provider recognizing a STEMI on a patient’s electrocardiogram (ECG) and alerting the Code Heart Team as early as possible, often before the patient arrives at the hospital.

The Code Heart Team in the Cardiac Catheterization & Electrophysiology Lab is an incredibly dedicated group of interventional cardiologists, nurses, and cardiovascular technologists trained in the treatment and care of critically ill patients. This team is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, with the expectation to arrive at the hospital within 30 minutes of an emergency.

After the procedure, our critical care providers and nurses in the ICU care for the patient. When stabilized, the patient moves to a dedicated heart floor with specially trained nurses for continued care and discharge to home.

Tips for Preventing a Heart Attack

There are many risk factors, like age, gender, family history, and genetic conditions, you can’t control. But you can control certain lifestyle risk factors.

  • Quit or avoid tobacco use and smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy diet—lower your intake of sodium (which increases blood pressure), fat (which increases cholesterol), and sugar (which can lead to diabetes).
  • Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Drink less alcohol.
  • Do not abuse drugs, especially stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine, and other drugs that affect the heart.

If you’re at risk for heart problems, be prepared in case of an emergency:

  • Add emergency numbers to your phone or post them where you can find them easily.
  • If you live alone, consider a wearable medical alert device.
  • Keep a two-week supply of all your medications in the house at all times.
  • Don't delay regular doctor visits, which can help you stay healthier in general, and help your doctor spot warning signs of heart trouble.
  • Work with your doctor to manage heart attack risk factors such as high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and smoking.

The bottom line is any heart attack or event is always life-threatening and requires quick treatment, especially a STEMI. If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing a heart attack, get life-saving heart care immediately. Call 911.

Visit Frederick Health to learn more about our award-winning heart care, including our awards from the American Heart Association.