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Convincing Heart Attack Victims to Seek Help Quickly

It's estimated that most heart attack victims wait between 2 and 4 hours before seeking medical help, a delay that contributes to nearly a half-million deaths a year. So the American Heart Association has launched a new nationwide campaign aimed at convincing heart attack victims to seek emergency care as as soon as they experience symptoms. Dr. Emily Senay has details.

In fact, said Dr. Senay, only 20% of people get to the hospital within that 1-hour time frame from the onset of symptoms when the best medicines will help them the most. And there are so many reasons for this, some quite surprising. One is that a lot of people are afraid they'll be embarrassed, afraid that if the neighbors see an ambulance coming into the neighborhood, they'll talk or if they get to a hospital and nothing's wrong, the doctors and the nurses will be annoyed. In some cases, they really don’t understand the symptoms and they are surprised to learn that the symptoms that they have could be consistent with a heart attack. And, of course, there's denial. A lot of people don’t want to admit, even though somewhere in their head they know that it's possible, that they're having a heart attack. They just don’t want to admit it.

And dare I say denial and embarrassment most often are from men?

You would think that's true but there are some new studies now that show women simply don't understand that they are also at risk for heart disease and they don’t seek help either.

So what don't people know about heart attacks?

Most people are familiar with the Hollywood heart attack, the sort of gripping chest pain--a person grips their chest, they cry out, they fall down, they have a heart attack. Of course that does happen. But there are other symptoms, quieter symptoms that can also signal a heart attack that are worth going over. Of course, there's chest pain. Shortness of breath is a major symptom. Cold sweat: Some people break out into a cold sweat. Discomfort or pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach, and nausea and lightheadedness. Now a lot of people will say, "Gosh, I feel a little nauseous right now. Does that mean I'm having a heart attack?" No. Really, people most often do have some form of chest pain. It doesn’t have to be severe. But any constellation of these symptoms might raise the thought in your mind that it could possibly be a heart attack, and also that overall feeling that maybe something just isn't right--something in your head saying, "I'm not feeling completely perfect. I think I should get this checked out."

So what do you do if you have that feeling?

If you have that feeling you should call 911. You should not drive yourself to the hospital. You should not call your neighbor to drive you to the hospital. You should not call your friends and family to survey whether or not they would give you permission to go to the hospital. That’s a really big issue. A lot of peopl feel they need permission to get checked out. You don’t need permission to get checked out. You want to call 911 and do what they tell you.

And also this idea of taking an aspirin, that’ll make you feel better immediately?

This message has gotten a little garbled. People are now taking aspirins in lieu of calling 911 or they’re driving themselves to the drugstore to buy an aspirin to see if the pain doesn’t go away. Wrong message. Aspirin should be given by the people who arrive on the scene or even over the phone as they tell you what to do. Taking an aspirin will not treat you for a heart attack at home. It’s not a home cure for a heart attack.
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