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Eighty percent of Kiwis cannot identify all major heart attack warning signs

The Heart Foundation is concerned about lack of heart attack symptom awareness and action.

Lack of awareness around heart attack symptoms is still dangerously high among Kiwis, according to a recent Heart Foundation survey.

The research, which questioned New Zealanders over 45, revealed almost 80% could not identify all the major signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

Only 20% of respondents knew that nausea is a major symptom. Other major signs are chest, neck and jaw discomfort or pain, shortness of breath and sweating.

Speed is critical

Research also showed that more than 40% of respondents would not call 111 immediately if experiencing these symptoms, which Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin believes is equally as concerning.

“When a heart attack happens, life-threatening rhythm problems are common. So early access to a defibrillator, carried by ambulances, is really important to save lives. This is why we recommend people call 111 immediately and do not try and drive themselves or others to hospital,” says Devlin.  

“Also, the earlier the blocked artery is opened up, the less long-term damage there is to the heart muscle. Speed is critical.”

Don't overthink it

Devlin says part of the reason for hesitating to call 111 is that people often overthink the need to call an ambulance.

“Our recent research showed the number one reason for delay was concern over wasting other people’s time if the person was not actually experiencing a heart attack.

“People also hesitate for many other reasons, including a sense of embarrassment, a fear of admitting there might be something seriously wrong, and even feeling that they somehow need permission from others before dialling 111.

However, he says it’s vital that all Kiwis are aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and act with urgency.

“It’s okay to call for an ambulance, even if it turns out not to be a heart attack. Let the medical professionals do their job and determine whether the patient is having a potentially life-threatening event.”

Heart attack signs and symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack can include: chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more; pain that spreads to the jaw, shoulders or back; excessive sweating; shortness of breath; and nausea.

“It’s not always the dramatic chest-crushing pain that people imagine it to be.”

The Heart Foundation is running its national Heart Attack Awareness campaign from 09-31 July with funding from the Ministry of Health and the Milestone Foundation.

This campaign includes the award-winning television commercial which shows people in the foreground giving a ‘Hollywood’ performance of experiencing a heart attack, while the man on the bench in the background is quietly experiencing actual symptoms of a heart attack.

“Heart disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than 6,000 people every year, that’s more than one family-member every 90 minutes. Many of these deaths are premature and could be prevented if people could recognise the symptoms and immediately dial 111.”