It’s understandable that no one wants to think about the possibility of having something as serious as a heart attack. For this reason, people might be inclined to dismiss early symptoms of cardiac arrest and avoid paying a visit to a clinic or emergency room.
It’s this exact conundrum that many medical facilities have been trying to fix for the past decade — without much success. According to a recent study, it took heart attack patients an average of 2.6 hours to get to the hospital after first noticing symptoms — despite all the efforts to get people to call for help or leave for the hospital within five minutes of chest pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms.
Researchers analyzed data on more than 104,000 patients who had arrived at one of 568 hospitals with a heart attack, from the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2006. The research team found that the average delay time of 2.6 hours did not budge during the six-year time period. Fifty-nine percent of patients took more than two hours to get to the hospital, while 11% took 12 hours after symptoms started.
Who was most likely to delay in getting care? According to the researchers, women, along with people who were older or non-white, who had diabetes or were current smokers were the least likely to get help at the onset of symptoms.
Now, here’s one more interesting result to consider: patients who arrived at the hospital during weekday and weekend nights — that’s between 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. — had 25% shorter delay times than patients who arrived between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. Sadly, the study findings suggest that our first thoughts about the cause of the delays — that patients simply didn’t know they were having a heart attack — may not be the case. Rather, a patient’s trust in the health-care system and their insurance status played a big part in whether or not they called for help. Many patients simply worry if they can pay for a trip to a hospital emergency room.
A lot of successful effort has been invested in shortening the time from first contact with a paramedic to getting a patient to the hospital and into the cardiac hospital lab, where blocked vessels can be cleared. The researchers feel that the issue now is that there really has to be a lot more focus on the patient side, even though the patient part of it is much harder to do.
Suffice it to say, the message here is: don’t delay.