There's never been a better time to be treated for a heart attack.
U.S. hospitals have set a record for how quickly they open blocked arteries, averaging under one hour for the first time since these results have been tracked.
More than 93 percent of patients now have their arteries opened within the recommended 90 minutes of arrival.
'Things have definitely improved' from a decade ago, when less than half of heart attack patients were treated that fast, said Dr. Fred Masoudi, a University of Colorado cardiologist who led a recent report examining response times.
The risk of dying goes up 42 percent if care is delayed even half an hour beyond the 90 minutes that U.S. guidelines say patients should be treated after arrival (file image)
It's based on records from about 85 percent of U.S. hospitals that do the artery procedure, angioplasty.
Through a blood vessel in the groin or an arm, doctors guide a tube to the blockage causing the heart attack. They inflate a tiny balloon to flatten the clog, and leave behind a mesh tube called a stent to prop the artery open.
The sooner blood flow is restored, the less chance of permanent damage.
'It's one of the few things in medicine where time, literally seconds, is of the essence. It's where the phrase 'time is muscle' comes from,' said Dr. Ajay Kirtane, director of the lab that performs angioplasties at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
The risk of dying goes up 42 percent if care is delayed even half an hour beyond the 90 minutes that U.S. guidelines say patients should be treated after arrival.
In 2005, this 'door-to-balloon' time averaged a dismal 96 minutes, and the American College of Cardiology led a drive to get hospitals to improve. The reportshows it plunged to 59 minutes in 2014.
It was only 24 minutes for George Smith at UConn John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, Connecticut.
The 82-year-old woke up on March 31 with intense jaw pain, the same kind he had during a heart attack two years ago. His wife called 911. An ambulance whisked him to the emergency room, and 'they were all waiting for me' at the door, he said.