Study: Heart attack patients wait too long to go to ER

November 10, 2010 3:13:09 PM PST
Heart attacks happen when one of the heart's arteries is blocked. Heart muscle is starved of oxygen and dies.

Though many people are aware of the symptoms of a heart attack, a new report finds that the majority of symptomatic people sit around and wait instead of seeking help.

A fast moving ambulance is where you should be within minutes of having heart attack symptoms. But real life experience?

"Often you ask a patient why took so long to come in, and they say 'Well I sat around i took some Maalox'...They come in and it's been 3 to 4 hours since they had chest pain," said Dr. Jeff Rabrich, with St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

That 's exactly what this week's report found, that the average time between symptoms and an ER Visit for a common form of heart attack is two and a half hours. Eleven percent of patients waited more than 12 hours.

"This study pretty much said what we knew. We need to get people here sooner, we're not doing a good enough job of getting them here quickly," said Dr. Rabrich.

Symptoms of a heart attack can be squeezing chest pain or pressure, often going to the jaw or left arm, shortness of breath, palpitations of the heart, sudden onset nausea and extreme fatigue.

Denial may play a role in people not going to the ER. No one wants to think that he or she is actually having a heart attack.

Cardiac arrest or heart damage is more likely the longer the heart is starved of oxygen. The sooner the ER visit, the more likely doctors can save heart muscle. The result can be a normal life despite the heart attack. The bottom line is call 911.

"Come see us in the Emergency Departemnt. We're much happier sending someone home with the diagnosis of indigestion, than dealing with someone who waited too long to come in with their heart attack," adds Dr. Rabrich.

The study was in the November 8th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors found that those who waited the longest were older patients, women, non-whites, and smokers.