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Men's Surprising Heart Attack Tactic

Study: 7% of Men Drive Themselves to Hospital During a Heart Attack
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 7, 2006 -- During a heart attack, 7% of men drive themselves to the hospital instead of calling for an ambulance.

So says a study of 227 women and 613 men in Dublin, Ireland, who had had a heart attack and made it to the coronary care unit.

Women were much less likely to drive during a heart attack. But they were also far slower than men to seek medical care, even with intense heart attack symptoms.

Driving during a heart attack is extremely dangerous, and so is delaying emergency care. About half of heart attack patients die before reaching the hospital, and swift treatment is a must, the researchers write.

Their bottom line: Call for an ambulance at the first sign of a heart attack. Don't delay, and don't drive yourself to the hospital.

The researchers included Sharon O'Donnell, PhD, RNT, RGN, of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Dublin's Trinity College. The study appears in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

What Were They Thinking?

The patients were interviewed by nursing staff at the hospitals' coronary care units. Only patients with confirmed heart attacks who were admitted to coronary care units were included.

Why did some people drive during their heart attack? Their reasons, noted in the study, include:

  • "I'd feel really embarrassed to go in an ambulance."
  • "I thought it would be needed for more urgent cases."
  • "It was the quickest way in."

    Others reported feeling well enough to drive and planned to pull over if need be. But many admitted "a feeling of 'collapse' when arriving at the hospital," the researchers write.

    "Driving a car whilst having a [heart attack] is obviously extremely dangerous both for patients and the general public," write O'Donnell and colleagues. "However, waiting for a family member or friend to drive to hospital may result in unnecessary delays."

    Their solution: Call for an ambulance ASAP at the first sign of a possible heart attack.

Women Slower to Seek Care

Fewer women drove during a heart attack. But women were much slower than men to get to the hospital by any means.

Women waited an average of 14 hours after the first symptom of a heart attack to go to an emergency room, compared with nearly three hours for men.

With intense heart attack symptoms, women still took three hours to go to the hospital, compared to less than two hours for men.

During those delays, some women tried to feel better by lying down, taking a bath, or taking antacids. Others said they didn't realize what was happening.

"I never even expected it was my heart," one woman stated.

"I just thought it was bad indigestion and would eventually go away," another said.

Hazy on Heart Attack Symptoms

Both men and women didn't recognize some of their own heart attack symptoms.

Both sexes reported "a common misconception that 'a heart attack would be much more dramatic' or 'I'd clutch my chest and fall to the ground,'" the researchers write. A recent U.S. survey echoed those misunderstandings.

To review, heart attack symptoms can include:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Pain or soreness in the arm, neck, or back that lasts several minutes
  • Feeling sick to your stomach
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Feeling sweaty
  • Feeling fatigued

All of those symptoms can signal a heart attack, but they don't always mean a heart attack is happening. That's why getting emergency medical care -- immediately -- is a must. A heart attack is no time for guesswork, hesitation, or do-it-yourself diagnoses.

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