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Survey: Most Americans Don't Know Difference Between Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest & Stroke

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Do you know what to do when someone has a heart attack? Do you know the difference between a heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest?

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, a new survey found most Americans aren't sure how to help and often confuse the symptoms. 

Knowledge is power when it comes to heart disease, the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. But according to a Cleveland Clinic survey, Americans don't know as much as they should.

In fact, 87 percent believe cardiac arrest is another term for heart attack, but it's not. A heart attack is a blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle, which can lead to cardiac arrest – a very different condition.

"Cardiac arrest is when the heart is either beating wildly or not beating at all and there's no blood flow," Dr. Steve Nissen said.

CPR can be a life-saver during cardiac arrest, but the survey found only one-in-six people know the recommended technique.

"There's been a change in recent years to chest compressions only, without mouth-to-mouth breathing. Many people didn't know that in the adult, really all you have to do is those chest compressions," Nissen said. "The best rate is somewhere between 100 and 120 times a minute."

When it comes to a heart attack, when the coronary artery becomes blocked, people often confuse the symptoms with those of a stroke.

"Many people in our survey thought that having slurred speech or weakness is actually a symptom of heart attack. When in fact, that's a symptom of stroke," said Nissen. "People who have a heart attack, most people are going to have pain usually in the center of the chest. It can go to the jaw or down the left or down both arms. It's often associated with nausea or shortness of breath."

The survey also found that most people having a heart attack know to call 911 first, but only about one third know to chew an Aspirin, as well.

"A full-sized 325 milligram of Aspirin. That, in a few cases, can actually stop a heart attack," Nissen said.

In addition to calling 911 and chewing an Aspirin, he recommends taking nitroglycerin, if you have it. That would be mostly patients who already have a history of heart disease, primarily angina.

One more important issue – many workplaces and public spaces have automated external defibrillators, or AEDs. An AED can help shock the heart back into a normal rhythm and save someone's life during cardiac arrest. So it's important to know where they're located.

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