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Heart Attack Symptoms a Mystery to Many

CDC: Most U.S. Adults Have Gaps in Their Knowledge of Heart Attack Symptoms
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 21, 2008 -- If you or someone you were with were having a heart attack, would you know it? Maybe not, according to a new CDC report.

That report, based on a 2005 telephone poll of 72,000 U.S. adults in 13 states and Washington, D.C., shows that most people didn't know five symptoms of a heart attack. And not all participants said they would call 911 at the first sign of heart attack symptoms.

That knowledge gap could be deadly. Certain drugs can stop heart attacks, but they should ideally be given within an hour after heart attack symptoms start.

Would you pass the survey's quiz on heart attack warning signs? Take it for yourself.

Take the Heart Attack Symptom Quiz

Review the following list of symptoms and note any that you think are possible symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
  • Feeling weak, lightheaded, or faint
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Now note which of the following you would do if you thought someone was having a heart attack:

  • Take the person to the hospital.
  • Advise the person to call a doctor.
  • Call 911.
  • Call a spouse or family member.
  • Do something else.

Answers to the Heart Attack Symptoms Quiz

Give yourself 100% if you picked all of the symptoms except "sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes" (that's a possible symptom of stroke, not heart attack) and if you chose "Call 911" as your strategy for dealing with heart attack symptoms.

If you aced the test, you don't have a lot of company. Only 16% of survey participants matched your marks.

Most participants knew at least a few heart attack symptoms, especially chest pain (92%) and shortness of breath (93%). And 86% said they would call 911 if they thought someone was having a heart attack or stroke.

But only 31% knew all five major signs of a heart attack, only 27% knew all five signs and said they would call 911, and only 16% knew all five signs, said they would call 911, and knew that sudden eye problems weren't a heart attack symptom.

Because the study only included people from 13 states and Washington, D.C., the findings may not represent all U.S. adults.

The heart attack symptoms covered in the quiz may not all occur with every heart attack, and other symptoms, such as nausea or breaking out in a cold sweat, weren't part of the quiz.

All of those symptoms can happen for reasons other than heart attacks. But the stakes are too high not to call 911 immediately.

The study appears in tomorrow's edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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