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How Does Aspirin Help During a Heart Attack?

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The heart is the most important muscle in the body, so it seems like something of a marketing ploy by the folks at Bayer to suggest that something so simple as a humble aspirin tablet can be of any use when this life-sustaining organ goes into epic fail mode. But it’s true: next to calling 911 immediately, taking an aspirin is one of your best bets when it comes to surviving a cardiac event. As Ben Affleck once said in a shampoo commercial, here comes the science.

We all have platelets in our blood – specialized disc-shaped cells that cling together to form a clot. Blood clots serve an important purpose; when you cut yourself shaving or smack your nose against someone’s fist, the body detects a disruption in the lining of a blood vessel and sends platelets scrambling to the injured area to stop the bleeding.

Sometimes, though, platelets get confused and rush to block an uninjured vessel. In the case of a heart attack, it’s usually a plaque (a cholesterol-rich build-up of gunk) that was attached to the wall of a vessel and suddenly ruptured. Even though there is no bleeding taking place, the rupture attracts the platelets and they build their customary blood-stopping barrier. The clot ends up blocking a healthy vein and deprives the heart of necessary oxygen-rich blood and causes a portion of the muscle to die. End result: heart attack.

Making Platelets Less Sticky

Among aspirin’s other properties, such as fever and pain reduction, it also has an inhibitory effect on platelets in the blood. It somehow makes the platelets less “sticky” and less likely to clump together. And less is better in this case - too much aspirin can cause stomach upset and uncontrollable bleeding, which is why one baby aspirin (81 mg) per day has been determined to be the optimal dosage to keep the blood flowing smoothly without adverse side effects.

Of course, everyone should check with a physician before beginning a daily aspirin regimen. However, if you or a loved one is showing symptoms of a heart attack, do not hesitate to administer a non-coated regular-strength aspirin tablet with a glass of water. Studies have shown that the pill works faster (eight minutes versus up to 20 minutes) if the patient chews it before swallowing.

Rosie O’Donnell credits aspirin with saving her life during her recent cardiac event. Interestingly enough, my Dad had a heart attack in 1990 and his symptoms were almost identical to Rosie’s. O’Donnell had struggled to assist an overweight woman out of her car one afternoon and then noticed aching in her arms and a slight pain in her chest later in the day. My Dad had aching in his arms one evening and a slight tightness in his chest, but charged the symptoms off to having been repairing the doorbell earlier and having held his arms overhead for so long. In both cases there was no “elephant on the chest” sensation or major pain in the left arm only. And Dad’s doctor later credited his daily baby aspirin regimen with saving his life, since once he recovered sufficiently for surgery he required a quintuple bypass.

Moral of the story: if you’re over 35, ask your doctor about aspirin. If you suddenly feel any sort of unusual pain or discomfort in your arms, chest and/or lower jaw do not hesitate to get thee to the emergency room ASAP.

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Big Questions
Where Is the Hottest Place on Earth?
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The summer of 2017 will go down as an endurance test of sorts for the people of Phoenix, Arizona. The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat warning, and planes were grounded as a result of temperatures exceeding 120 degrees. (Heat affects air density, which in turn affects a plane’s lift.)

Despite those dire measures, Phoenix is not the hottest place on Earth. And it’s not even close.

That dubious honor was bestowed on the Lut Desert in Iran in 2005, when land temperatures were recorded at a staggering 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The remote area was off the grid—literally—for many years until satellites began to measure temperatures in areas that were either not well trafficked on foot or not measured with the proper instruments. Lut also measured record temperatures in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Before satellites registered Lut as a contender, one of the hottest areas on Earth was thought to be El Azizia, Libya, where a 1922 measurement of 136 degrees stood as a record for decades. (Winds blowing from the nearby Sahara Desert contributed to the oppressive heat.)

While the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) acknowledged this reading as the hottest on record for years, they later declared that instrumentation problems and other concerns led to new doubts about the accuracy.

Naturally, declaring the hottest place on Earth might be about more than just a single isolated reading. If it’s consistency we’re after, then the appropriately-named Death Valley in California, where temperatures are consistently 90 degrees or above for roughly half the year and at least 100 degrees for 140 days annually, has to be a contender. A blistering temperature of 134 degrees was recorded there in 1913.

Both Death Valley and Libya were measured using air temperature readings, while Lut was taken from a land reading, making all three pretty valid contenders. These are not urban areas, and paving the hottest place on Earth with sidewalks would be a very, very bad idea. Temperatures as low as 95 degrees can cause blacktop and pavement to reach skin-scorching temperatures of 141 degrees.

There are always additional factors to consider beyond a temperature number, however. In 2015, Bandar Mahshahr in Iran recorded temperatures of 115 degrees but a heat index—what it feels like outside when accounting for significant humidity—of an astounding 163 degrees. That thought might be one of the few things able to cool Phoenix residents off.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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