Think you might be having heart problems? Call your doctor now

Sudden cardiac arrest—a condition where defective electrical activity in the heart causes the heart to stop—seems to happen without warning. However, new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that more than half of sudden cardiac arrest patients ignored symptoms occurring up to a month before the attack.

Sudden cardiac arrest is often fatal, but getting early medical intervention could potentially save lives. According to the study, the difference in survival rates is substantial:

  • 32 percent survival rate for people who experienced symptoms and sought medical help
  • 6 percent survival rate for people who didn’t seek medical treatment for symptoms

What symptoms should you get checked out?

  • Intermittent chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Ongoing flu-like symptoms such as nausea and abdominal and back pain

“If you’ve never experienced heart problems before and you now have on-and-off chest pain and shortness of breath, don’t ignore them. Contact your doctor right away and have it evaluated,” Dr. Patel said.

The research, conducted by the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, in collaboration with the Oregon Health & Science University Emergency Department, analyzed data on 839 patients in the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death survey who had sudden cardiac arrest.

They found that in the four weeks before having a sudden cardiac attack:

  • 50 percent of men and 53 percent of women in the study had warning symptoms, including chest pain and difficult or labored breathing
  • In 93 percent of those patients, the symptoms recurred within a day before the heart attack

People with symptoms should see their primary care physician for initial work up and then possibly referral to a cardiologist for further evaluation and testing. According to Dr. Patel, this guidance is particularly important for people in their middle ages and older. It’s better to seek medical attention early rather than risk a heart attack or sudden death.

Dr. Patel notes, “The most important thing is to not ignore potential heart attack symptoms, especially if you have risk factors such as a family history of heart disorders, smoking, diabetes, and/or poorly controlled cholesterol.”

Subscribe to the You Matter Blog

* indicates required