Study Finds Lack of Knowledge of Heart Attack Signs

A new study shows an alarming number of adults don't know the warning signs of a heart attack, and don't know the first thing to do if you're having one is call 911.

The study from the Centers for Disease Control found only about one in four Americans know the major warning signs of a heart attack.

Dr. Thomas Doyle of the Topeka's Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center calls the study "alarming" because the United States alone sees nearly a million heart attacks a year.

The CDC lists the five major signs of a heart attack as chest pain or discomfort; pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder, particularly radiating down one arm; shortness of breath; feeling weak, faint or lightheaded; and discomfort in the jaw, neck or back.

Dr. Doyle says the signs may be less obvious for women. He says they might more typically have back pain, shortness of breath, a vague nausea or abdominal discomfort, or general fatigue.

It goes beyond the signs. The CDC study also found even among those who knew the signs, only about a quarter would call 911 for help.

"We know 90-percent of those who die from a heart attack never make it to the emergency room," Dr. Doyle said. "If you make it to the emergency room, you have 90- to 95-percent odds of surviving."

But, Dr. Doyle says, don't drive yourself or even have a family member drive you. While he admits there is a chance you'd get there more quickly, he says an ambulance is just as fast, if not faster, plus is equipped ot begin some emergency treatment on the way. In Topeka, ambulances are even able to transmit an EKG to doctors, so, if it is a heart attack, procedures to get your arteries reopened are ready and waiting when you arrive.

"Time is muscle," Dr. Doyle said. "The longer the heart goes without a blood supply because of a blocked artery, the more likely there are to be complications and heart damage."

Dr. Doyle says it's important to know your heart attack risk. People who have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoke or have a family history of heart disease might want to be on closer watch for warning signs.


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