13.5M in the US can’t name a single heart attack symptom

Millions of Americans are unaware of common heart attack symptoms, according to researchers, including a subset of 13.5 million people who admit to not knowing a single symptom of MI.

A preliminary study slated for presentation at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia Nov. 17 gauged the public’s knowledge of heart attack symptoms by leveraging data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey. For the poll, more than 25,000 adults were asked to answer “yes” or “no” to whether the following were symptoms of a heart attack: chest pain or discomfort; shortness of breath; pain or discomfort in the arm or shoulder; feeling weak, lightheaded or faint; and jaw, neck or back pain.

Lead author Shiwani Mahajan, a postdoctoral associate at Yale School of Medicine’s Center for Outcomes Research & Evaluation, and colleagues reported that while 53% of respondents said they were aware of all five symptoms, nearly 6% said they weren’t cognizant of any.

“It is most striking that we found nearly 6% of individuals—which represents over 13.5 million adults in the U.S.—were not aware of a single symptom of a heart attack,” Mahajan said in a release from the AHA. “You would expect it to be fairly common knowledge that chest pain is a symptom, but millions of individuals were not aware.”

When asked whether the best response to a perceived heart attack is calling emergency medical services or “other”, 4.5% of respondents said “other,” Mahajan said, which is another worrying finding.

“It would be interesting to see why they are hesitant, and what prevents these individuals from accessing emergency medical care,” she said. “Are they worried they may be wrong, and they’re afraid of embarrassment? Or is it because of cost-related barriers to healthcare access?”

Male, black and Hispanic populations were less likely to be aware of heart attack symptoms than other groups, Mahajan said, as were people born outside of the U.S. She said those populations would likely benefit the most from future targeted public health interventions.