Hollywood is hot for drama, and when it comes to portraying a person having a heart attack it can be misleading. Gasping, struggling for a breath, holding the chest as if it is about to explode or clenching an arm tightly all make for great dramatic TV. But the reality is that sometimes the signs of a heart attack are so subtle the person experiencing an attack may ignore it, or may not realize that discomfort in the jaw, neck or back can signal a heart attack.
According to areport in the CDC’sMorbidity andMortalityWeekly Report, February 22, 2008, it is estimated that approximately 920,000 people had a heart attack in 2005. It is critical for treatment to begin immediately because it is reported that half of the cardiac deaths occur within one hour on onset “before patients reach a hospital.” Recognizing the warning signs of a heart attack and calling 911 immediately are crucial.
The following questions were asked in the survey and a total of 71,994 people responded. “Do you think pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back are symptoms of a heart attack?" "Do you think feeling weak, lightheaded or faint are symptoms of a heart attack?" "Do you think chest pain or discomfort are symptoms of a heart attack?" "Do you think pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder are symptoms of a heart attack?" "Do you think shortness of breath is a symptom of a heart attack?"
Here’s how the results played out: Only 48% of the respondents were aware that pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back are symptoms of a heart attack; only 62% of the respondents were aware that feeling weak, lightheaded or faint are symptoms of a heart attack; 92% of the respondents were aware that chest pain or discomfort are symptoms of a heart attack; 85% of the respondents felt that pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder are symptoms of a heart attack; 93% of the respondents were aware that shortness of breath is a symptom of a heart attack; and shockingly, only 86% of the respondents would call 911 if someone was having a heart attack or stroke.
The most disconcerting portion of this report is that only 86% of the respondents would call 911 if someone was having a heart attack or stroke. Why only 86%? If these respondents knew someone was in need of emergency treatment, why would so few folks call 911? Why wouldn’t 100% of the respondents? What’s holding them back?
Not surprisingly, the majority of the respondents were aware that chest pain or discomfort and shortness of breath are symptoms of a heart attack. After all, this is the classic Hollywood example. Is “Hollywood” the prime health educator? Is the general public receiving vital health information from “Hollywood?” Feeling weak, lightheaded or faint and feeling discomfort or pain in the jaw, neck or back are all indicators of a heart attack, but these symptoms are not as dramatic as the person struggling for breath, grabbing the chest and falling to the floor.
The bottom line from this report is that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding the warning signs of heart attack and knowing whether to call 911. The study reveals that there is a disparity between race, gender, educational status, and the state in which one lives when it comes to understanding the warning signs of a heart attack.
As a registered nurse and broadcast journalist, I find it quite shocking that the level of knowledge among the general public is lacking. After all, heart disease is the number one killer of Americans today, so why is the knowledge of Americans so limited? Are we doing a poor job in educating the public? Do we need more specific targeting of the population? Do we need more public service announcements and more campaigns? How do we increase public awareness? What will it take to educate the public? Should Hollywood be part of the campaign?
To sum up, we definitely need to be doing a better job in educating the public. Not only is it the responsibility of the media to provide accurate information, but health care professionals in masses need to focus on prevention and accurately provide health information to the public. While Hollywood loves dramatization, we need the information to be accurate.
Public awareness must focus on the RED FLAGS (Warning Signs) of a heart attack, emphasizing that subtle chest discomfort is as serious as an excruciating pain in the chest, and recognizing that feeling faint, weak or lightheaded is just as vital. It’s critical that folks understand that even with the most subtle symptom -- whether it’s a slight chest discomfort or a pain in the jaw, neck or back -- they must immediately call 911.
Remember to take charge of your health. Guide your knowledge through trusted sources and medical experts.
Here are some vital tips to you:
1. Don’t always believe what you see on TV. If you’re interested in a specific health topic, do your homework and find trusted sources to help you navigate information.
2. On the topic of heart attacks, it’s important that you recognize the symptoms and most importantly understand that some symptoms can be very subtle. Symptoms include:
·discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
·feeling of weakness, feeling of lightheadedness or feeling faint
·pain in arms or shoulders
·shortness of breath
3. Call 911 immediately if you recognize any of these symptoms. It’s critical that treatment for a heart attack begins right away.
What are your thoughts? Does the media do a good job in educating the public on health issues? Are there enough medical experts providing the information? Is Hollywood a prime health educator?
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