You should seek immediate medical care at the ER or by calling 911 if you might be having a heart attack. Urgent care centers do not treat life threatening conditions.

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Someone has a heart attack in the United States every 40 seconds. With so many heart attacks in the United States each year, it’s likely that you or someone you know will experience this potentially life threatening condition.

Knowing what to do can help to make an emergency feel less scary. But it’s especially important to know where to go when signs of a heart attack appear because prompt medical treatment in these situations can save a life.

If you believe you are having a heart attack, it is a potentially life threatening situation.

Instead of going to an urgent care center, you should call 911 (or your local emergency services) or go to the emergency room.

Difference between urgent care and emergency rooms (ER)

Urgent care centers are for minor medical issues and medical services like basic lab tests and vaccinations. Sometimes called minor care clinics, they are an option for people who need care outside of their primary care doctor’s office hours and available time slots. You can read more about urgent care centers here.

On the other hand, emergency rooms are designed to handle potentially life threatening situations. Although some individuals may try to use these for other kinds of medical care, emergency rooms are really meant for people with issues that might be considered medical emergencies.

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Common signs of a heart attack include:

  • chest pain or discomfort (this often feels like tightening or squeezing)
  • feeling weak, faint, or light-headed
  • pain or discomfort in one or both arms and shoulders
  • pain that spreads to the lower jaw, neck, or back
  • shortness of breath
  • cold, sweaty skin

Other symptoms might include unusual tiredness and nausea or vomiting. These are more likely to be seen in women, according to the CDC.

A heart attack is a potential life threatening condition.

Heart attacks can leave the heart muscle with damage affecting its rhythm and ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can put you at risk for stroke, kidney disorders, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and even another heart attack.

At the hospital, medical professionals will run a variety of tests to determine if you’re having or have had a heart attack.

The first test doctors typically run is an electrocardiogram (ECG). This is a painless test where small electrodes are placed on your body to record your heart’s activity. This can reveal if you’re having a major heart attack where blood is being blocked from part of the heart muscle.

Because not all heart attacks will show up on an ECG, even if nothing appears out of order on the ECG doctors will typically take a medical history to learn more about your symptoms and also take a blood test to measure troponin, a protein that rises when the heart is damaged.

Because troponin levels won’t necessarily rise right away if you’re having a heart attack, doctors may ask you to stay for a few hours to do a follow-up blood draw. If several of these tests come back negative, your doctor may request an exercise stress test to determine the risk of a future heart attack.

A doctor may give a trial of medication to see how you respond and a chest x-ray might be given to look for other potential causes of chest pain like pneumonia.

An imaging test like an echocardiogram might be used to get information that might include the size of the heart, blood clots in the heart chambers, or problems with the aorta. The EKG is key in determining the health of the heart muscle, especially after a heart attack.

If the exact cause of your symptoms is still unknown, the doctor may wish to run a CT or MRI scan to get a better look at your heart and the arteries around it.

It’s important to get prompt treatment for a heart attack because the more time that passes the more damage that may occur to the heart muscle.

If you head to urgent care for treatment, they will most likely have to send you to the emergency room because they don’t have the right equipment to treat you. This wastes valuable time.

Prompt medical attention is key to improving your chances of survival if you’re possibly having a heart attack.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of a possible heart attack, it’s important to contact 911 or go to the ER immediately. Urgent care centers do not treat life threatening conditions, so if you’re seeing symptoms of a heart attack that’s not the place to go.