• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Center dedicated to diagnosing chest pain

March 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
More than five million Americans visit hospitals each year with chest pain. But how do you know if that pain is a heart attack or something else?

People can wait hours for ER doctors to figure out what the problem is. Now there are clinics dedicated solely to quickly deciphering what that pain means.

Ten years ago, Eva Barthel, now 72, went months before getting a weird pain in her chest checked out.

"I just didn't feel right. I ended up having a lot of palpitation, I just did not feel right, I can't even pinpoint it," said Barthel.

She was suffering acute coronary syndrome, a condition brought on by sudden reduced blood flow to her heart.

"I was a walking time bomb. I wouldn't be here today," said Barthel.

Each year, millions of Americans feel chest pain that could be a heart attack or eventually lead to one. Sometimes it's angina, which is a non-life-threatening chest pain, acid reflux or simply stress.

Glendale Memorial Hospital has a newly accredited center dedicated only to chest pain. It's part of the emergency room, but the difference is a staff trained in specialized diagnostic testing.

"I think if somebody has a new, oppressive discomfort in their chest, front or back, they ought to come to a chest pain center and get that worked up," said Dr. Lawrence O'Connor, medical director of the Cardiac Fitness Center at Glendale Memorial Hospital.

The goal is to get a patient to diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. What doctors want to avoid is sending a patient home too quickly or needlessly admitting him to the hospital.

"We'll work up a patient who's having chest pain in less than 24 hours and either identify that they have heart disease or send happily on their way, knowing that they don't," said Dr. O'Connor.

Barthel was on the verge of a heart attack. She underwent angioplasty to clear her artery. She advises others who experience chest pain to have it checked out and not wait like she did.

Glendale Memorial and West Hills Hospital are both accredited by the Society of Chest Pain Centers.