Getting treatment as soon as possible to restore blood flow to blocked arteries can help prevent the most severe damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack. Unfortunately, some people wait hours or longer than a day to report symptoms, according to a recent Swedish study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.
Among patients who waited for more than 12 hours before they sought help, researchers found a perceived inability to act. Such patients said things like, “I did not know what to do when I got my symptoms” and “I lost all power to act when my symptoms began.”
The researchers say those reactions could have been due to fear or anxiety. Assuming symptoms would pass or weren’t serious enough was another reason for a delay in treatment. The people in the study who sought medical care quickly were able to realize right away that their symptoms could be from a heart attack and didn’t ignore them.
What you should do
Don’t second-guess symptoms that could indicate a heart attack; call 911 immediately if you have chest discomfort—which can feel like pain, fullness, squeezing, or uncomfortable pressure, typically in the center of the chest—that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes; discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, stomach, or jaw; and shortness of breath.
Other signs include cold sweats, nausea, or light-headedness. Chest discomfort is the most common symptom in women, but women are more likely than men to experience the other symptoms.
This article first appeared in UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see Screening Tests for Heart Disease.