TUPELO, Miss. (Press Release) — In 2006, Gail Grice of Baldwyn was returning home from a shopping trip to Tupelo when her left arm began tingling.
As she got closer to home, the pain grew more intense. Eventually she called her daughter who, unbeknownst to her, called an ambulance. “The paramedics arrived about the same time my daughter did,” she says. Once in the Emergency Department at North Mississippi Medical Center, Grice had an electrocardiogram (EKG) and lab tests, which both came back normal. Still, the cardiologist felt something was amiss and opted to do a cardiac catheterization. “He found one artery was completely blocked and two others were partially blocked,” she says. The doctor implanted a stent to open the blocked artery and prescribed medication to help keep the other two open.
“They said that they caught it in time before anything bad happened,” Grice says. “If the cardiologist hadn’t been there and acted as quickly as he did, it could have been a lot worse.”
Needless to say, Grice won’t soon forget that episode. So when she started having chest pain in October 2013, she went to NMMC’s Emergency Department to be checked out. Again her EKG and lab tests came back normal, but the cardiologist had doubts. He referred her to NMMC’s new Chest Pain Center for further evaluation.
Open 24 hours daily in the hospital’s Heart Institute, the unit is equipped with the latest diagnostic technology to help cardiologists determine if the patient has already suffered a heart attack, is in danger of a heart attack, or the chest pain is not heart-related. The Chest Pain Center works like this: A patient who comes to the Emergency Department at NMMC or another facility is examined by the Emergency Department physician. The patient has blood tests and an EKG, a test that records the heart’s electrical activity through 10 small electrode patches attached to the skin of the chest, arms and legs.
If the patient’s EKG is abnormal, indicating poor blood flow to the heart, the patient is admitted to the hospital. If the EKG and lab tests are normal, the patient is no longer having chest pain or has a low risk for heart problems, the patient is moved to the Chest Pain Center for observation.
“In about half of all cases, early symptoms precede a heart attack,” explains Barry Bertolet, M.D., a cardiologist on staff at NMMC’s Heart Institute. “We want people to go to the ER and, if needed, they will be transferred to the Chest Pain Center for a rapid but thorough evaluation to see if the issue is heart-related or something else.
“If the issue is heart-related, we may be able to prevent a heart attack. If, however, heart disease is ruled out, then the patient’s doctor can get on to the business of finding out the reason behind the pain.” Typically patients spend less than six hours in the Chest Pain Center, which allows adequate time for observation without the expense of a hospital admission. After about four hours in the Chest Pain Center and a follow-up test, Grice was diagnosed with a muscle spasm instead of a heart issue.
Grice was fortunate that her chest pain was not heart-related, but some people are equally as fortunate to find out early that theirs is. “We recently had a patient sent to our Chest Pain Center from another hospital’s Emergency Department with an initial complaint of chest pain,” Dr. Bertolet says. “Her initial EKG was normal, as were her lab results. And by the time she arrived here, her chest pain had subsided.”
The cardiologist felt the patient was at high risk for heart disease and did a cardiac catheterization, where he discovered one blood vessel completely blocked and another with 95 percent blockage. “This patient had a critical, life-threatening heart issue,” Dr. Bertolet says. “If she had been sent home after initial tests, she would have died. Our goal is to prevent heart attacks by further evaluating issues that might otherwise be overlooked or put off until another day.”