When Heart Attack Symptoms Strike: Life-saving Advice for Seniors

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Some adults ages 75 and older wait far too long before seeking medical help for heart attack symptoms, putting their health-and lives-in jeopardy, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The longer it takes to treat someone experiencing a heart attack, the more likely it is for irreparable damage to be done to the person’s heart muscle. But many older adults often second-guess their symptoms, causing a delay in getting medical care.

Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine analyzed the medical data of 2,500 adults ages 75 and older treated at hospitals for heart attack symptoms. It took six hours or more for 42 percent of the patients to arrive at a nearby hospital after symptoms appeared. The patients who delayed medical care tended to be nonwhite and have heart failure. And 21 percent of them had no chest pain, only other symptoms, such as shortness of breath or fatigue. The absence of chest pain might have convinced these patients that their symptoms weren’t serious.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: Heart attacks are best treated within one hour of symptom onset. As each hour passes with no treatment, a good outcome becomes less likely as more damage is done to the heart.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If you have chest pain; shortness of breath; pain in the jaw, head, shoulders, or arms; a sudden feeling of intense anxiety, weakness, or fatigue; unexplained nausea and vomiting or indigestion; or heavy sweating for more than a few minutes, call 911. Never drive yourself or ask someone to take you to the hospital; ambulances are equipped to begin treatment of heart attack victims both on-site and en route.