Act at the first sign, don’t delay

News /

Share this

Professor Garry Jennings AO

Chief Medical Advisor

For Australians, the relaxed "It’ll be right mate" attitude and the want not to be a burden continues to put individual’s lives at risk when it comes to a heart attack.

Our stereotype of the elderly individual clutching their chest before collapsing has led to a lack of awareness amongst the wider community that heart disease can present in many ways.

Heart Foundation research of Heart Attack survivors found that in two in five people chest pain was the first symptom experienced but more than one in four survivors reported they did not experience any chest pain during their heart attack.

In addition to chest pain, the first symptom experienced included arm pain (9%), shortness of breath (9%), dizziness (7%, nauseated (6%), faint (5%) and pain in the jaw, back, neck or shoulder.

Where Australians put themselves at risk is the first act following the initial symptom.

If you think you might be having a heart attack, phone 000 immediately for an ambulance. The sooner you receive medical attention, the greater chance of a better outcome.  Blocked arteries can be re opened avoiding damage to the heart provided you get to hospital quickly enough.  This is called reperfusion. 

Disturbingly for Australians heart health, nearly 30% of heart attack survivors wait more than 12 hours before being seen in the emergency department. This means there is unlikely to be any benefit in repairing or salvaging damage to the heart.

Three out of five heart attack survivors received reperfusion within four hours, which greatly reduces heart muscle damage (if any).

However, the reluctance to seek an ambulance remains a concern. Only 20% rang triple zero as the first action taken. Most people rang a friend or family member, with the reason for not calling an ambulance being a lack of knowledge of what the symptoms represented (52%).

Of greater concern was that 13% drove themselves to the hospital. That is dangerous for themselves and for others on the road.  Of those who didn’t call triple zero, 18% didn’t want to a burden or felt the ambulance would take too long.

Our heart is our life – Australians need to treat the symptoms seriously.

The likelihood of a heart attack being fatal is one in six, but two-thirds of people who experienced chest pain felt the symptom was not life-threatening. More people rated the seriousness of jaw pain as life-threatening.

Australians are putting their life and future recovery in danger by delaying appropriate medical help for their symptoms.

At the first sign take control and seek medical assistance – your heart will thank you.

Signs of a heart attack 

Heart attack symptoms vary from one person to another. The most common signs are:

  • chest pain: tightness, heaviness or pain in your chest
  • pain in arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach: for some people, the pain or tightness is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable
  • sweating
  • feeling light-headed
  • become short of breath
  • feeling nauseous or vomiting