Whether you are a male or female hunter having a heart attack while you are hunting might be the last thing on your mind as you head out to hunting camp or for just a day in the woods. With the added physical stress that hiking while you are hunting puts on your body it could happen. More important, if you are having a heart attack how will you know it?
Tod Maddux, M.D. of Missoula is one of the leading interventional cardiologists in the Northwest and Director of the Cardiac Catherization Laboratory at Montana’s International Heart Institute at Providence St. Patrick Hospital. Maddux says if your body is experiencing pain and fatigue that could be a sign your having a heart attack, “if you are short of breath, experiencing chest pain or pressure, or your lower jaw or arm is in pain it is highly likely that you are having heart issues or a heart attack”. It probably is no surprise that the older you are the more the chance that you could have a heart attack especially if you are a smoker, diabetic, or have a family history of heart disease. “Cardiac symptoms are an incredibly dynamic process that may come and go or stay with you and it is important that you act immediately to get help especially if you are out in the backcountry,” said Maddux.
There are some instances where people may have a silent heart attack but most have some sort of physical pain, even though, according to Maddux, some of his patients were surprised they had a heart attack in the first place, “I have had patients that even though they experienced discomfort they were surprised that the heart attack didn’t come with more pain”. That is even more reason not to ignore the symptoms and seek help fast, “The main thing I would ask hunters to do is to be honest if they are feeling any of the symptoms and don’t be afraid to interrupt a hunting trip to get checked out. The last thing you want is to be far from medical help when a heart attack starts”. Once a heart attack starts there is little one can do to stop it and immediate medical attention is needed. In other words, it’s not like getting the flu where in a day or two you’re probably going to feel better.
The best way to prevent a heart attack while you are hunting is to start way before you go hunting, “The best advice is to have physical activity all year long whether you walk, bike, jog, bowl or even dance; just so you do some activity on a regular basis,” added Maddux, “where you put your body at risk is when you try and walk up that mountain with no advance preparation. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise, a good diet, and managing your weight is very important”. Maddux also says that some of his patients think that when they feel discomfort while putting physical stress on their body it’s the result of not being in shape or that they are just a year older, “hunting is a seasonal sport enjoyed by many that are at risk for heart disease and involves unpredictable and potentially very heavy exertion in remote areas, that’s a bad combination and we need to appreciate the potential risks and take appropriate precautions”.
If you have had heart problems in the past and have been prescribed nitroglycerin medicine make sure you take it with you and that it is up to date. If you or a hunting partner is experiencing a heart attack take a aspirin but get help fast because as they say “time is muscle”. “Every second counts to restore blood to the heart so have someone drive you to the nearest hospital or call 911 if possible,” adds Maddux, “we have the technology and experience to help but you but you have to get here first”. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, talk you out of what you believe your body is telling you.
(Written by the Captain)