Worrying that heart attack victims don’t call 000

The Heart Foundation is sounding the alarm over research suggesting many heart attack patients don’t call an ambulance because they’re unsure of the warning signs or assume they’re not at risk.


Acting quickly and calling an ambulance is critical to minimise heart damage, but just one in three patients called triple zero (000) – regardless of whether it was their first heart attack or not.


Far more people (49%) drove themselves to the nearest hospital or GP clinic, the Foundation’s new survey of more than 400 heart attack survivors reveals.


The results have prompted the heart health charity to implore more Australians to learn the warning signs and know to get help fast by calling triple zero.


The most common reasons for not calling paramedics were uncertainty over whether it was a heart attack or not (54%), and thinking they were at low risk of a heart attack (26%).


COVID-19 also put patients off getting medical help. Of those surveyed who had their heart attack in 2020, half delayed seeking treatment over fears of catching the virus or adding to the burden of already strained hospitals.


Heart Foundation General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski, says knowing the full range of heart attack warning signs, and what action to take, can save your life.


“Everyone has heard of a heart attack, but many people assume it won’t happen to them, so they may discount the warning signs or misinterpret them as something else,” Mr Stavreski said.


“This complacency is dangerous because heart attacks are more common than you might think


“With heart attacks, every minute counts, yet one in four people waited at least one hour before taking any action.


“Getting to hospital quickly can reduce the damage to your heart muscle and increase your chance of survival, but the last thing we want patients to do in this situation is get behind the wheel.


“It’s concerning to see people aren’t calling triple zero and getting the medical help that can be the difference between life and death, or a speedy recovery or living with permanent disability.”


Key findings include:

  • Close to half of patients acted within 15 minutes of experiencing symptoms, a quarter waited half an hour to an hour and the other quarter waited longer than one hour.
  • Despite some patients having had two or more heart attacks, the time taken to respond to symptoms was similar.
  • The most common first reaction to symptoms was to tell a friend or family member (28%); 19% rang triple zero for an ambulance; 16% travelled to the nearest hospital and 12% went to a doctor’s surgery. Whatever they did first, overall just 31% called triple zero for an ambulance, and about half (49%) took themselves to a hospital or GP clinic.


Every nine minutes an Australian is hospitalised for a heart attack, but Mr Stavreski warns it won’t necessarily look like the classic heart attack you might see on TV or in the movies.


Chest pain or discomfort are tell-tale signs of a heart attack, but they are not the only signs. You may have just one, or a combination of symptoms (see list below).


“Most of us are familiar with the common portrayal of a heart attack in movies, but the reality is that symptoms can vary from person to person and may not always be sudden or severe,” Mr Stavreski said.


“Chest pain is the most common symptom in women and men, but women are more likely to experience other symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and arm, shoulder, neck, jaw or back pain.


“We know a significant proportion of women are reluctant to call triple zero if experiencing symptoms of a heart attack because they feel they are at low risk.


“If symptoms last longer than 10 minutes while resting, are severe or get worse, call triple zero immediately. This advice remains the same during a pandemic; you can and should seek emergency care.


“And remember, it’s okay if it ends up being a false alarm – that’s the best thing that could happen.”


Danger zone

Heart attack warning signs can include:

  • Discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure or pain in the chest.
  • Pain (or discomfort) in one or more of the following areas: arm(s), shoulder(s), neck, jaw or back.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizzy or light-headed
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling generally unwell.


8 June 2021.