"We can stop a heart attack during the process, but you have to get to the hospital first," said Catherine Ryan, research assistant professor of medical surgical nursing. "The real push for improved survival is to get them there early."
Ryan presented her findings at the American Heart Association's annual meeting this week in Dallas.
Time is of the essence during a heart attack, and doctors have urged people who experience common symptoms -- shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness, or discomfort in the chest, arm, neck or jaw -- to get to a hospital as quickly as possible. But delay in seeking treatment is common, and worsens the outcome after a heart attack, Ryan said.
Ryan sought to determine whether delay was related to the symptom cluster individuals experienced during a heart attack. Earlier studies about the delay, she said, focused on only one symptom, not clusters, or on demographic characteristics of the patients.
She asked the authors of 10 such studies to send her their data, and eight groups of authors in the United States and Great Britain complied. The data had been collected in interviews with 1,073 patients who had had heart attacks.
Ryan studied 12 common symptoms: chest discomfort; shoulder, arm, or hand discomfort; neck or jaw discomfort; back discomfort; abdominal discomfort; indigestion; nausea and vomiting; shortness of breath; sweating; dizziness and light-headedness; weakness; and fatigue.
Her analysis showed that individuals with the shortest delays (a mean of 9.78 hours) had a greater probability of experiencing the largest number of symptoms. Individuals with the longest delays (a mean of 22.77 hours) had moderate probability of experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath.
Sweating may be a key variable in the symptom cluster prompting individuals to seek treatment, Ryan said. But the research could not determine whether sweating is an indication of a more serious heart attack.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health through UIC's Center for Reducing Risks in Vulnerable Populations.