Lifesaving Ways to Respond to a Heart Attack

Chest pain? Don't even think of driving yourself to the hospital.
When describing their heart attacks, many survivors recall uncertainty rather than panic.

Many of them don't even know they're having an attack until they get to the hospital—and that's OK: Experts say it's exponentially better to err on the side of caution and get to a hospital quickly.

Incredibly, one study of patients who had suffered a heart attack found that more than half did not immediately call an ambulance.

Women respond more slowly
Women are more likely than men to delay seeking treatment at the first signs of a heart attack, a behavior pattern that has puzzled cardiologists and contributes to the higher mortality rate from heart attack among women.

A Heart Attack Is a Race Against Time
Heart Disease Heart Attack Doctor-Patient Video
"I thought I was gonna drop"  Watch video
When researchers at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland looked more closely at this trend by interviewing heart attack survivors, they found some surprising results. Nearly a quarter of the women they interviewed downplayed the severity of their symptoms during their attack, and a fifth of them chalked up their symptoms to something other than a heart attack. One woman said she was reluctant to go to the emergency room because she thought the hospital staff would tell her she was "wasting their time."

While heart attack care has come a long way, says Anne G. Rosenfeld, PhD, lead author of the study, "We need to do more to educate people about the consequences of delaying treatment."

Female, nonwhite, and poor patients are more likely than other patients to wait six hours or more before seeking help for a heart attack, according to a study of elderly Medicare patients led by a Georgetown University researcher.

According to J. Willis Hurst, MD, a cardiologist at Emory University, treatment delay is a public health issue that needs to be addressed. "Rather than repeated advertisements about gastrointestinal reflux, how about advertisements about MI (myocardial infarction)," Dr. Hurst has said.

12 Next
Lead writer: Chris Woolston
Last Updated: April 07, 2008

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from!

More Ways to Connect with Health