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Why do people having heart attack signs often delay seeking emergency care?

Usually people having heart attack signs delay seeking emergency care because of lack of awareness of signs and symptoms and limited access to health care.

Reasons that a person might delay seeking emergency care for signs of a heart attack can range from confusion to denial to fear of looking silly if he or she isn’t having a health crisis after all.

Mrs. LeAnne Lovett-Floom
Ambulatory Care Specialist

People often delay seeking medical care for cardiac symptoms because they do not know that many subtle signs may be the overall result of an impending heart attack. Others may not know at all due to other underlying health issues such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, indigestion (GERD) or other issues. Unfortunately, many persons are often in denial that something could actually be a heart issue. For instance, my grandmother continued to have a "pulled muscle" in her scapula. Weeks later, her primary doctor found that she had already had a significant heart attack along with heart muscle damage. Don't wait, have your symptoms evaluated by a healthcare professional today. 

It has been my experience that many people think that for them to be having a heart attack, the chest pain will always be the predominant symptom and that it will be such severe pain that they will know when to seek care. This is a form of denial, especially among young, active individuals who think, “It just cannot be my heart.” Women are far more likely than men to delay seeking treatment despite clear signs and symptoms of heart attack, a behavior pattern that has puzzled cardiologists and that has contributed to higher mortality rate from heart attack among women. Symptoms of heart attack can also be quite subtle in elderly patients and people with diabetes.
There may be several reasons people delay seeking care when having signs of a heart attacks. One might be lack of education, and hence lack of recognition of symptoms, particularly symptoms outside of the typical chest pain or pressure. Some people may be in denial that they have health problems. Others may confuse or attribute their symptoms to other problems, such as reflux. Unfortunately, access to care can be another reason for delay in seeking care.

Some patients who are having heart attacks can mistake the signs and symptoms they are experiencing as something else such as musculoskeletal pain or gastric esophageal reflux disease. It is important to consult your doctor and seek immediate attention if you are having chest pain.

People with signs and symptoms of a heart attack sometimes delay seeking emergency care because they think it is something else—indigestion, for example—and are in denial that it could be a heart attack.

Often they don't know they are having a heart attack and think the signals are just muscle soreness, indigestion or heartburn.

People having heart attack symptoms and signs often delay seeking emergency care for multiple reasons. A common reason is just a lack of education regarding what to be on the lookout for. Also, people frequently blame the chest discomfort of a heart attack on other causes, such as indigestion or musculoskeletal pain. In addition, some people will avoid seeking emergency care due to financial concerns or a reluctance to inconvenience family members.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.