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Most people wait too long to get help for a heart attack

A woman holds her hand to her chest.

Don't play the waiting game.Oct. 2, 2019—Heart attacks are always a serious medical emergency, and it's important to get help at the first sign of trouble. However, a new study shows that many people wait too long.

That may have something to do with how suddenly symptoms appear. Researchers looked at the records of 474 patients who came to the emergency room (ER) with a heart attack. Over half reported symptoms that came on suddenly. But 44% said the symptoms were gradual.

People with abrupt symptoms took a little over 2.5 hours on average to get help. Meanwhile, people with gradual symptoms waited an average of eight hours.

Minutes matter

Either wait time is too long, the researchers said. People who get to the hospital within two hours of when symptoms start have a lower risk of death or serious complications.

According to the American Heart Association, calling 911 can also save precious time over going to the ER by car. Emergency medical technicians can start treatment up to an hour earlier than someone who uses their own transportation.

The study appeared in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

How to recognize a heart attack

The most common heart attack symptoms include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Chest discomfort.
  • Chest pressure.

Less common symptoms include:

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.
  • A cold sweat.
  • Light-headedness.

Women may be more likely than men to experience these less common symptoms.

If you have heart disease—or risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes—you should be especially aware of these signs. Those conditions raise your risk of a heart attack.

Are you at risk for a heart attack? Take this assessment and share the results with your doctor.

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