Nearly 80 per cent of Kiwis surveyed last month could not identify all the major signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

Gerry Devlin, the medical director of the Heart Foundation, which carried out the survey of over-45-year-olds, says Kiwis’ lack of awareness of heart attack symptoms is “still dangerously high”.

With only 20 per cent knowing that nausea is a major symptom (see full list of symptoms below), Devlin says it is equally concerning that the research showed that more than 40 per cent of respondents would not call 111 immediately if experiencing these symptoms.

He says life-threatening rhythm problems are common in heart attacks and that it is why it recommended that people call 111 immediately for an ambulance to ensure early access to a defibrillator, which can save lives. “Also, the earlier the blocked artery is opened up, the less long-term damage there is to the heart muscle. Speed is critical,” says Devlin.

He says part of the reason people hesitate calling an ambulance is that they overthink. “Our recent research showed the number one reason for delay was concern over wasting other people’s time if the person was not actually experiencing a heart attack.

“People also hesitate for many other reasons, including a sense of embarrassment, a fear of admitting there might be something seriously wrong, and even feeling that they somehow need permission from others before dialling 111.

Devlin stresses it is okay to call for an ambulance, even if it turns out not to be a heart attack

He also stresses that a heart attack is not always the dramatic chest-crushing pain that people imagine it to be. This is highlighted in the Heart Foundation’s National Heart Attack Awareness campaign, which runs from now until 31 July, with funding from the Ministry of Health and the Milestone Foundation.

This campaign includes the award-winning television commercial, which shows people in the foreground giving a ‘Hollywood’ performance of experiencing a heart attack, while the man on the bench in the background is quietly experiencing actual symptoms of a heart attack.

Heart attack symptoms at a glance:

  • Symptoms of a heart attack can include: chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more; pain that spreads to the jaw, shoulders or back; excessive sweating; shortness of breath; and nausea.
  • However, women in particular can experience other less obvious symptoms, such as discomfort in the upper back, nausea, sweating and unusual fatigue.

Heart disease at a glance:

  • Heart disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than 6,000 New Zealanders every year – that’s one person every 90 minutes.
  • 172,000 Kiwis are currently living with heart disease.




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