May 27, 2008 / 12:34 AM / 9 years ago

Many ignorant of heart attack signs: study

<p>A nurse is seen beside a heart monitor in a file photo. Many people with heart disease do not know the symptoms of a heart attack, even though their risk of suffering one is five to seven times higher than those with no such history, researchers reported on Monday.Fabrizio Bensch</p>

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Many people with heart disease do not know the symptoms of a heart attack, even though their risk of suffering one is five to seven times higher than those with no such history, researchers reported on Monday.

Symptoms can include nausea and pain in the jaw, chest or left arm. But the research team said shorter hospital stays and a move to outpatient treatment have decreased the amount of patient education on the subject.

Kathleen Dracup and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing said they looked at 3,522 patients in the United States, Australia and New Zealand who had previously suffered a heart attack or had undergone a procedure, such as angioplasty, for heart disease.

They found that 44 percent of them scored poorly on a true-false test measuring how savvy they were about symptoms.

Women in general along with patients who had taken part in cardiac rehabilitation, those with higher education, younger people and those who were treated by a heart specialist rather than a family doctor tended to have the best scores on the test, the report said.

"In decades past such patients were frequently hospitalized and would receive education and counseling from physicians and nurses during their hospital stay," they said in the report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Unfortunately structural changes in health care delivery have led to decreased lengths of hospital stay and increased use of outpatient facilities ... which in turn have had a dramatic effect on the time available for the education of patients," they added.

Those who suffer a heart attack have a better chance of surviving if treatment begins within one hour, the study said, but most patients are admitted to the hospital 2-1/2 hours to three hours after symptoms begin.

The authors said numerous studies have found that patients who have already suffered an earlier heart attack do not seek help any faster than those who had no such health history. Given the lack of knowledge about the range of symptoms as measured in the study, they said, that is not surprising.

Reporting by Michael Conlon; editing by Andrew Stern and Eric Beech

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