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Heart Disease Health Center

His Guide to a Heart Attack: Symptoms in Men

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Every Second Matters

About half of sudden cardiac deaths happen outside a hospital, meaning that people don't act on early warning signs, the CDC says.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that most men wait 6 hours before calling 911 when having heart attack symptoms.

“The really bad news is that is too late,” says Holli A. DeVon, PhD, RN, who led the study. “We say you should call 911 within 5 minutes. That is the goal. And we are missing that goal by hours, not minutes.”

DeVon, an associate professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says the faster you get to the hospital, the better the outcome.

Once you're there, doctors can begin treatments like clot-dissolving drugs or angioplasty to restore blood flow to the heart muscle and limit damage. “If you get to the hospital in a few minutes rather than a few hours, you are more likely to have a better outcome with less complications, and you are less likely to die,” she says.

When to Call 911

If you think you're having a heart attack, don't try to drive yourself to the hospital. Call 911 instead. 

That's because emergency responders offer more than just a ride. They can give you oxygen, heart medications, and pain relievers; monitor your heart rhythm and vital signs; and transmit potentially lifesaving information to the hospital to get a jump start on tests and treatment. Plus, arriving at the emergency room by ambulance generally allows you to bypass the wait that typically characterizes walk-ins. 

Despite the benefits, doctors say they often hear male patients express hesitation about calling 911 because they are:

  • Unsure what they are feeling
  • Concerned about the cost of an ambulance ride or hospital visit
  • Embarrassed that the diagnosis might be something simple like heartburn

DeVon says none of those things matter if your life is in danger. “For patients who do have a heart attack, it really can be life and death,” she says. “They don’t need to feel embarrassed. This is exactly what emergency medical services were designed to do -- get people to the hospital quickly. They are there to help you.”

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