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Awareness of Heart Attack Signs Lags in U.S.
Date:2/21/2008

y would call 911 ranged from 77 percent in the District of Columbia to 78 percent in Mississippi to 89 percent in Minnesota.

Knowledge about the warning signs was much less satisfactory. Only 31 percent of those questioned knew all five signs. For example, awareness that feeling weak, lightheaded or faint was a warning sign varied from 53 percent in the District of Columbia to 70 percent in Iowa; for pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back, awareness ranged from 34 percent in the District of Columbia to 59 percent in West Virginia.

There were also sharp socioeconomic and ethnic differences. While more than a third of those with a college education knew all five signs and the need to call 911, only 15.7 percent of those with less than a high school education did. Awareness was significantly higher among whites (30.2 percent) than among blacks (16.2 percent) and Hispanics (14.3 percent).

"It is such a low percentage," said Dr. Martha Daviglus, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and a professor of preventive medicine and medicine at Northwestern University. "Maybe it is because they are unaware or misinformed. Or maybe it has to do with going to the emergency room of a hospital, thinking, 'We don't have any money, we'll have to pay something'."

The goal of the U.S. government and the heart association is to increase awareness of heart attack signs to 50 percent of the American population, Daviglus noted. "Maybe you think that is not much," she said. "Eventually, it should be our goal to reach the entire population. We can do it little by little. But it is only through the help of the public that we will achieve it."

One barrier is an unwillingness of many people to learn about heart attack signs, Daviglus said. "People believe this is never going to happen to them," she said. "They believe it is a problem for someone else."

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