Heart attack - why do so many wait so long?

Heart attack - why do so many wait so long?

Researchers in the School of Nursing at Yale University in the US are setting up a survey to find out why so many people often wait several hours following a heart attack before seeking medical help. This is of concern because all the evidence points to the fact that treatment is most effective when the heart attack sufferer gets medical attention in the first hour of experiencing symptoms.

In a typical scenario, a person experiences a heart attack, but does not recognize the symptoms. They refuse to consider that the pain could be a heart attack, dismissing it as nothing more than heartburn. Such thoughts may be what causes them only to take themselves to the hospital many hours later.

Speaking about it in a press statement released on 16 February, the head of the Yale team looking into this, Dr Angelo Alonzo, Research Scientist at Yale University School of Nursing, said delayed treatment is a critical problem in our society:

"We still have not come up with an effective intervention for getting people to the hospital much earlier than the typical median time of around four hours.

We are so embedded and invested in our daily lives that we are very, very reluctant to just drop everything and seek medical care. Only when the signs and symptoms become so overwhelming that we have few choices do we willingly go (to the hospital),"

Alonzo has worked as a a Public Health Officer with the National Institutes of Health, looking at how people delay seeking care and treatment following acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and acute coronary syndrome (ACS). He and his team now want to investigate this further and take a closer look at the decision processes of those who delay seeking medical attention.

What are the barriers to seeking help sooner rather than later?

This is just one of the questions the Yale Heart Study team hopes to answer.

To this end, they have designed an online survey for heart attack survivors to give details of their experience.

The intention is to use the results to create strategies to help people get attention as quickly as possible when they start to experience symptoms of heart attack.

The survey, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, takes between 30 minutes and one hour to complete, depending on the respondent's experience.

The researchers now need 2,300 participants to fill it in.

The survey is anonymous, and anyone who helps a heart attack survivor complete it is eligible for a Yale Heart Study Community Service Certificate, corresponding to one hour of community service.

The survey is online here.


Section Issues On Medicine: Cardiology