As February draws to a close, we’ve had plenty of time to consider our tickers. Heart health has been front-and-center throughout Valentine’s month and for good reason. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year. Of those 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 occur in persons who have had a prior heart attack. Recognition and early action save lives.

The classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain; upper body pain in the arms, neck, upper stomach or jaw; shortness of breath; nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats. Chest pain can differ among individuals. Some describe it as a crushing, breath-stealing pain. Some say, “It feels like there is an elephant standing on my chest,” while others report “it feels like my chest is being squeezed in a vice.” The chest pain may or may not radiate elsewhere. If you have these symptoms, seek medical attention at once. Do not delay!

Our regional Fire/EMS departments are well-prepared handle these conditions. They call ahead to alert the Emergency Department. NMC’s Emergency Department has strong working relationships with regional Fire/EMS partners. Their precise advisories prepare us for immediate action.

If you walk into the Emergency Room and say you might be having a heart attack or that you are having chest pain, you will immediately move to the front of the line for assessment and treatment. A suspected or actual heart attack is a medical emergency. Even if you aren’t sure you are actually having a heart attack, we want you to come to the hospital. We will move you to the front of the line and treat you as though a heart attack is occurring until it can be proven otherwise.

Ladies, here’s a special note: women’s heart attacks can present differently than the classic “manly symptoms” listed above. Yes, women frequently have those symptoms. In addition to the list above, women can have more subtle heart attack clues such as unusual and overwhelming fatigue or a “fatigue or heavy chest” during rest; sudden sweating or shortness of breath without exertion; a cold clammy feeling when there is no cause for stress; neck, jaw or back pain (with or without any chest pain); or pain in either arm (with or without chest pain). According to the Cleveland Clinic, many women report these symptoms occurred several weeks or a month before their heart attack actually happened. Ladies, if you notice these symptoms seek medical attention right away. Early recognition and action save lives.

A friend confided to me, “I don’t want to come to the Emergency Room only to find out it isn’t a real heart attack but only bad indigestion. I would feel like I was wasting everyone’s time. And I would be embarrassed for making a false alarm.” In healthcare, we say we’d rather chase a hundred false alarms than to lose even one opportunity to save a life. Please take care of your heart and please come see us immediately even if you’re unsure you’re actually having a heart attack. Live to celebrate another Valentine’s Day.

On another topic, March is colo-rectal cancer (CRC) awareness month. In my opinion CRC is among the most tragic of all cancers. Why? It’s largely preventable. CRC typically develops from non-cancerous polyps. Simple early treatment exists: painless polyp removal during routine screening colonoscopy. If you are already 50, I plead with you to consult your doctor or one of these local experts to have a screening colonoscopy soon: Dr. Bogner, Dr. M. Hall, Dr. T. Holdeman, Dr. McConeghey, Dr. McEachern, or Dr. Roeser. It’s much easier to get a simple polyp removed than to receive CRC treatment which includes major surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Early CRC screening saves lives. Please get your colonoscopy!

 — Vallerie Gleason is the president and CEO of Newton Medical Center.