Heart Attack/Emergency Cardiac Care

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when an area of the heart muscle dies or is permanently damaged because of inadequate oxygen supply. This lack of oxygen is most frequently caused when a plaque — fatty, fibrous tissue — ruptures or tears, which stimulates the clotting of blood at the site that blocks the flow of blood to the downstream heart muscle. Immediate attention is necessary; the faster the artery can be opened, the less damage to the muscle and the more quickly the heart can recover. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend opening the blockage in 90 minutes or less (called door-to-balloon time, which spans arrival at the hospital until the blockage is cleared). Stony Brook Medicine has achieved an average time of 71 minutes, well below this target.

Living a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, a balanced diet and manageable stress levels can help reduce your risk of heart attack.

Heart attack symptoms vary from mild to severe, and may include:

  • Chest pain or radiating pain in the arm
  • Back or jaw pain (more common in women)
  • Indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Anxiety or racing heart
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Many people are unaware that women can have a very different experience than men, and that heart disease is the number one killer of women. Unlike men, when women have angina, the chest pain that occurs when not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle because of narrowed or blocked arteries, they tend to feel a hot or burning sensation and their back, shoulders, arm, or jaw may be tender to the touch. During a heart attack, they often experience nausea, vomiting, indigestion, shortness of breath, anxiety, unusual fatigue, a cold sweat, weakness or an irregular heartbeat. Women are more likely to minimize their symptoms as well, which can lead to risky situations.

If you think you or someone you know is experiencing a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Our services are designed to quickly confirm that you are having a heart attack and, if so, treat it immediately. Electrocardiography and echocardiography are very useful initial diagnostic tools.

  • Electrocardiography. Electrocardiography is a tool that tracks the electrical impulses of the heart. Electrodes are placed on your chest and are then attached to a computer console. At Stony Brook, we typically complete this test within five minutes of patient arrival; and
  • Echocardiography. Echocardiography is an imaging tool that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart; it allows us to assess the strength and function of your heartbeat.

We offer the following services to treat heart attack:

  • Balloon angioplasty. During cardiac catheterization, we insert a balloon-tipped catheter into the blocked artery. We gently inflate it to compress the blockage against the wall of the artery to open it up;
  • Stent placement. We often insert a wire mesh tube called a stent after we perform balloon angioplasty. The stent helps keep the artery open in the future; and
  • Bypass surgery. In other cases, cardiac surgery may be the best treatment plan. We can re-route blood flow around a blockage, which increases healthy flow to the heart. Usually, a blood vessel from the leg or chest is used to bypass the blocked heart artery.
Your Care Team

Our team of dedicated nurses, cardiologists, and cardiac surgeons is known for high-quality care in a comfortable, compassionate environment. Always seeking excellence, we were the ones to create and implement the highly successful Code H protocol, which placed us as a leader in heart attack care in Long Island. We value strong relationships with our patients and their families, and encourage open communication between all parties. Our values include effectiveness, safety, and compassion, and we are able to meet our standards in a facility equipped with state-of-the-art resources. Our interventional cardiology physician team includes:

Stony Brook

Robert Pyo, MD, Director, Interventional Cardiology, Stony Brook Medicine
Ahmad Alkhalil, MD
Travis Bench, MD
On Chen, MD, Medical Director, Cardiac Care Unit; Director, Cardiogenic Shock Program 
William E. Lawson, MD, Director, Preventive Cardiology
Puja Parikh, MD, FACC, FAHA, FSCAI, Director, Invasive Cardiology and Co-Director, Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Program
John P. Reilly, MD

Center Moriches and Southampton

Travis Bench, MD, Director, Cardiac Catheterization Services, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital
John P. Reilly, MD, Chief of Cardiology, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital
Scott McGlynn, MD

The Stony Brook Difference

Stony Brook Medicine is equipped with the state-of-the art tools and equipment necessary to treat all heart disease, heart attacks, and emergency situations. Our cardiothoracic surgeons perform the only heart surgery in Suffolk County and we are the region's only catheterization facility that has on-site cardiothoracic surgery. If you are having a heart attack, you will be taken directly to the catheterization laboratory for angioplasty to restore blood flow. A special elevator can transfer a patient directly from the lab to the operating room, if required. At an average of 71 minutes, our door-to-balloon time is nearly 20 minutes less than the 90-minute standard set by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. The Code H protocol that helped us achieve these results has now established us as the area's primary destination for emergency heart procedures.