Medical experts believe that heart attack patients are waiting too long to act on symptoms due to anxiety and a lack of an understanding of the condition.
New research, published in the , found that patients waited a median of three hours before seeking medical help, with some postponing finding care for more than 24 hours.
The study involved 326 patients undergoing acute treatment for a first or second heart attack completing a questionnaire which evaluated their emotions and action tendencies before seeking help during a heart attack.
Reasons for the delay include a perceived inability to act which had a significant impact on patients who waited more than 12 hours. Patients stated that their reasons for not seeking help earlier included “”I lost all power to act when my symptoms began”; “I did not know what to do when I got my symptoms”; and “I felt I had lost control of myself when I got my symptoms”.
“This immobilisation during ongoing heart attack symptoms has not been shown or studied before,” says study author Dr Carolin Nymark, of Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.
“At the moment we don’t know why some patients react in this way. It is possibly linked to fear or anxiety. This should be a novel element in educating people about what to do when they have heart attack symptoms.”
Failure to accurately diagnose heart attack symptoms also affected those who delayed seeking care for more than 12 hours. Patients cited that it took them a long time to understand their symptoms; they thought the warning signs would pass; and that they thought they were not serious enough to seek medical assistance.
However, patients who accurately identified their heart attack symptoms and sought medical help quickly said they knew the symptoms were serious and were aware of where they should go to get help.
“Our previous research has shown that some patients believe their symptoms aren’t serious enough to call an ambulance,” said Dr Nymark.
“Others think the intensive care unit is closed in the middle of the night, perhaps because they do not think clearly during the event.”
An acute myocardial infarction is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot, the NHS states.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling weak and/or lightheaded, and an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.
However, Dr Nymark notes: “Another red flag is feeling you have no power to act on your symptoms.
“This may indicate a real health threat and the need to call an ambulance.”
The NHS warns that a heart attack is a medical emergency and those who suspect they might be suffering from the condition must dial 999 and ask for an ambulance immediately.
Gallery: These heart attack symptoms could mean the difference between life and death [The Active Times]