‘Educated’ heart attack victims take swifter action

Patients taught how to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack get to hospital much faster for life-saving treatment.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin found a five-hour difference from the onset of symptoms to arrival at hospital between those who received a 40-minute educational session compared to those who did not.

The study by academics from TCD’s School of Nursing and Midwifery took place over three years at five major Dublin hospital. It involved patients already diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome, which includes heart attack and unstable angina.

Patients who received the educational intervention presented much faster for re-admission at an emergency department (within 1.7 hours), compared with those who did not (within 7.1 hours), a 62% improvement.

Also, those who did not receive the intervention took almost one third longer to get to the emergency department, compared to their first admission time.

The Health Research Board-funded study, published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, showed how the intervention helped patients to develop an action plan if they experienced symptoms again.

Professor and lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Mary Mooney, said patients experiencing a heart attack should ideally receive life-saving medical treatment within an hour.

“The educational intervention is short, focused and cost effective, with clear benefits. It could be incorporated into usual care in the future,” said Ms Mooney.

Many people assume the symptoms of a heart attack are similar to those they have seen in Hollywood movies, ie clutching the chest and collapsing. However, sometimes symptoms are subtle, with a slow onset, intermittent and atypical.

The same group of researchers have also found in a previous study also published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine that 65% of patients experienced slow-onset heart attack symptoms. Such symptoms directly contribute to a delay in accessing emergency treatment.

People often delay getting medical help when suffering a heart attack because they are in denial or fearful.

There are also misconceptions about the ability of a GP to treat a heart attack and a lack of knowledge about the importance of using an ambulance.

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