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Heart Attack: Most People Can Identify Chest Pain But ‘One-third’ Are Not Aware of These Lesser-Known Signs

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New research suggests heart health red flags you should never ignore

Heart disease ranks as the leading cause of death in both genders, yet many people don’t spot the warning signs

Research presented at the 2023 ESC Congress highlights the critical importance of recognizing and promptly addressing heart attack symptoms to receive timely, potentially life-saving interventions.

Dr. Kyehwan Kim from Gyeongsang National University Hospital in Jinju, South Korea, the lead author of the study, noted, “Patients with a repeat heart attack were more likely to know the symptoms than first-time sufferers, but recognition was low in both groups.

“Most patients could identify chest pain but less than one-third knew the other symptoms.”

Signs of a heart attack include not just chest pain, but also pain spreading to the arms, jaw, and neck, dizziness, cold perspiration, shortness of breath, nausea, and fainting spells. Seeking immediate medical attention at the onset of these symptoms is essential for enhancing the chances of survival and recovery.

The research delved into the relationship between symptom recognition, promptness of treatment, and patient outcomes.

The study analyzed data from KRAMI-RCC, a Korean myocardial infarction patient registry. Through structured surveys, trained medical staff determined if survivors were familiar with six listed heart attack symptoms. Based on their responses, patients were categorized as either “recognized symptoms” or “unaware of symptoms”. Key parameters such as patient demographics, time to critical treatment, and survival rates were then evaluated between these groups, accounting for various factors including age, gender, and prior medical history.

Out of 11,894 patients in the study, a significant majority were experiencing their first heart attack. A comprehensive analysis revealed that only slightly over half could correctly identify heart attack symptoms. Chest pain was the most recognized symptom. However, knowledge about other symptoms like shortness of breath, cold sweats, and radiating pain was markedly lower. Alarmingly, very few could associate dizziness or stomach pain with a heart attack.

When breaking down demographics, men exhibited higher symptom recognition than women. Additionally, younger individuals, those with higher education, and those cohabitating with partners were more aware of the symptoms.

Further, the research underscored a distinct advantage in treatment timeliness and outcomes for those who recognized the symptoms. Over half of this group received critical interventions within two hours, a rate significantly higher than their unaware counterparts. The hospital mortality rate was also notably lower among those aware of the symptoms.

A notable observation was that patients with a history of heart attacks who were previously enrolled in KRAMI-RCC had better symptom recognition than those not enrolled. Shockingly, only a small percentage of first-time heart attack patients had adequate symptom awareness.

Emphasizing the importance of public education, Dr. Kim remarked, “The findings indicate that education is needed for the general public and heart attack survivors on the symptoms that should trigger calling an ambulance. In our study, patients who knew the symptoms of a heart attack were more likely to receive treatment quickly and subsequently survive. Women, older patients, those with a low level of education, and people living alone may particularly benefit from learning the symptoms to look out for.”

Image Credit: Getty

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