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Researchers warn to be aware of symptoms of slow onset heart attacks

A new study carried out by researchers at Trinity College has shown that the majority of people who have a heart attack do not seek help quickly enough as they are unaware that they are actually experiencing one. The reason for this is according to the study which was published in the ‘Journal of Emergency Medicine,’ is that 65% of people suffering a heart attack experience slow onset warning signs such as mild chest and left arm discomfort, fatigue and a shortness of breath and not the intense chest pain that is often portrayed on television or in films.

The study shows that people who suffer the symptoms of a slow onset heart attack will very often dismiss them as something else and not seek help and treatment immediately which can often prove too late and lead to fatalities. The study said that the majority of people who suffer from slow onset symptoms of a heart attack were postponing getting treatment for an average of three and a half hours, by which stage a huge amount of damage can be done to the heart and chances of a full recovery can be hindered greatly.

The researchers have said that ideally treatment should be administered within an hour of the patient first experiencing the symptoms but that it can be given within two hours. Dr. Sharon O’Donnell, the director of undergraduate teaching and learning at Trinity’s School of Nursing and Midwifery believes that the reason people don’t seek treatment immediately is because the symptoms are often not that dramatic.

Dr. O’Donnell said “Most people expect a heart attack to be associated with sudden, severe and continuous chest pain. However, the most surprising finding for us was that for the majority of people in our study, their heart attack started off with mild or intermittent symptoms, such as chest and left arm discomfort, shortness of breath and fatigue”.

She also stated that those who delay in seeking treatment can significantly reduce their chances of making a full recovery and can cause their heart to be permanently damaged “The quicker treatment is received the greater the benefits for the patient. The slow-onset heart attack patients in this study, the majority group, had an average of a three-and-half hour pre-hospital delay compared with a two-hour delay for the fast-onset patient cohort.”

Dr. O’Donnell firmly believes that campaigns on television and radio should be informing people that the symptoms of a heart attack are not always that obvious and that the public should be made more aware of the different ways a heart attack can occur “Future educational campaigns must dispel the myth that heart attacks always occur in a dramatic fashion. If someone experiences any worrying symptoms which are unresolved with rest or usual cardiac medication, then they should call an ambulance and go to hospital immediately.”


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