New research by the Heart Foundation has found that New Zealanders are not taking heart attack symptoms seriously, risking premature death or permanent damage to their hearts.
To combat these findings, the Heart Foundation is launching its largest ever public awareness campaign this weekend.
“Heart disease is New Zealand’s biggest killer,” says Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin. “We’re losing more than one Kiwi every 90 minutes and it’s not good enough that many of these deaths are premature and preventable. One in three of us will be personally affected by cardiovascular disease. It’s time for Kiwis to start taking their heart health seriously.”
This new study, carried out in May this year, looked at why New Zealanders behave in such a way. It canvased the views of 1422 people through focus groups and a survey.
Reasons include a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, concerns about the cost of an ambulance and medical care, and a fatalistic view that ‘this was meant to happen’.
Another problem is that people experiencing a heart attack, and those witnessing, often feel like they need permission to call for an ambulance.
“It’s as if people are looking for someone to tell them it’s okay to call for help,” says Dr Devlin. “What we want to do with our Heart Attack Awareness campaign is empower every Kiwi to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and be confident enough to call for medical help.”
Dr Devlin says many people do recognise symptoms like chest discomfort, but many don’t recognise the less obvious symptoms of an attack, which can include pain in the jaw, shoulders or back; or excessive sweating, shortness of breath and nausea.
“It’s not always like the dramatic chest-crushing pain you see on TV or in the Hollywood movies. The most common symptoms of a heart attack can be subtle but still have a very serious outcome.”
While some seek prompt medical attention, many don’t. Dr Devlin says it was disappointing to hear stories about people experiencing symptoms but waiting hours and in some cases days to receive life-saving medical care.
“It’s even more disappointing to think this is happening across New Zealand every day,” he added.
The research also revealed that communities most likely to delay calling for urgent medical care are those in lower socio-economic areas.
Responses from focus group participants included:
“I had gone through a very stressful situation…I had to sit down because I couldn’t catch my breath…I wasn’t feeling well, I was sore you know, in my chest. I went to the doctors the next day…they sent me straight to hospital,” said one person.
“I was unloading a truck and just felt really unfit. The pain was only in the last half hour, it got really painful and I was sweating. I didn’t feel better (after a lie down) so I had (my wife) drive me to hospital. (It) was about six hours ‘til I got to the hospital,” said another respondent.
As an Interventional Cardiologist at Waikato Hospital, Dr Devlin sees many of these cases in the emergency department.
“In the medical field we often talk about the ‘Golden Hour’. Ideally we need patients to be receiving life-saving medical care within 60 minutes of the onset of symptoms – not six hours later or the next day.”
The Heart Foundation’s awareness campaign launches this Sunday evening, 12 July, with a television commercial, radio ad, online video, posters, flyers and letterbox drops.
The Heart Attack Awareness Campaign is funded by the Heart Foundation, the Ministry of Health, and AstraZeneca, a biopharmaceutical company.