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Researchers call for improved awareness of heart attack symptoms

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Atlanta — About half of U.S. adults don’t know all five of the most common heart attack symptoms, although awareness has increased over a recent 10-year period, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers looked at National Health Interview Survey responses from 2008, 2014 and 2017. They found that the percentage of adults who could name all five heart attack symptoms – chest pain or discomfort; pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back; feeling weak, faint or light-headed; pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder; and shortness of breath – increased to 50.2 from 39.6 over the span of surveys.

Respondents who most often could identify all five heart attack symptoms included people at least 45 years old, Caucasians, women and those who had at least some college education.

The percentage of adults who knew to call 911 or another emergency number also increased, to 94.9 in 2017 from 91.8 in 2008.

CDC estimates that 750,000 heart attacks occur each year, and emphasizes that getting immediate medical help increases the odds of survival.

“Because of the high prevalence and significant health impact of heart attacks, awareness of the major signs and symptoms of a heart attack and the appropriate response to the event should be common knowledge among all adults,” the study states. “However, the suboptimal knowledge among U.S. adults identified in this study, especially among racial/ethnic minority groups, those with lower levels of education, and those with more [cardiovascular disease] risk factors, highlight a need for enhanced and focused educational efforts. Clinical, community and public health efforts are needed to continue to systematically improve the awareness of heart attack symptoms throughout the United States.”

The study was published online Feb. 8 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.