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Unless you are a health professional, chances are high you’ve never heard of Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS). But, how about myocardial infarction? Heart attack? Angina? Like other “syndromes,” ACS is less of a diagnosis itself and more of an umbrella term that defines a set of symptoms. In the case of ACS, we’re talking about the symptoms that stem from decreased blood flow to the heart that can indicate an active or impending heart attack. The classic symptom is chest pain, which can range from a severe crushing sensation to an achy discomfort in the chest that may spread to the neck, jaw, arms or back. Other symptoms of ACS can include sweating, paleness, shortness of breath, and nausea.

These symptoms indicate a life-threatening emergency, and minutes matter.

Time is muscle. The heart is the hardest-working muscle in your body. It pumps blood out to your body 24/7 without a rest, for your entire lifetime. To work this hard, the heart needs a constant, uninterrupted supply of oxygen and nutrients. To meet its own need for oxygen, some of the blood from each heart beat is pumped right back to the heart tissue itself through the coronary arteries. When blood flow through the coronary arteries is compromised (usually due to plaque build-up), the hard-working heart tissue is in jeopardy. The amount of heart tissue damage depends on how completely the blood supply is blocked and for how long. Immediate medical intervention is the key to saving lives.

Luckily, your heart isn’t the only one working hard. Hospital emergency rooms and emergency medical services (EMS) teams are making big strides in streamlining the process of diagnosing and intervening in ACS. EMS professionals are often able to start IV lines and perform diagnostic electrocardiogram (EKG) procedures while in route to the hospital. In the emergency room, doctors and nurses stand ready to interpret EKG results, and perform blood tests that can indicate whether heart cells are dying. If indicated, the staff in the hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab) prepares a room for emergency procedures, such as angioplasty, in which a tiny balloon is inflated within the blocked artery to restore blood flow. There is even a term for the hospital’s average time between when a patient comes through the ER door to when the angioplasty balloon is inflated; it’s called the “door-to-balloon time.” All over the country, hospitals are tracking and working to reduce their door-to-balloon times. This is certainly true at St. David’s HealthCare. From Georgetown to South Austin, all six of St. David’s acute care hospitals are full-service, acute-care facilities, and all are Chest Pain-Accredited.

The bottom line? Don’t play “wait and see.” Educate yourself and have a plan of action, especially if you have risk factors for a heart attack. These risk factors include family history, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or previous diagnosis of angina, heart attack, or coronary artery disease. It starts with recognizing the symptoms and calling 911. Make the decision now that you will not hesitate to act if you experience the symptoms of ACS.


Visit for more information on St. David’s HealthCare’s Heart and Vascular services and to take an online heart risk assessment.



American Heart Association. (June 20, 2011). Acute Coronary Syndrome. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from

Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care. Accredited Facilities. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from

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