It's not clear why the decrease has occurred, she said. "It could be better preventive measures, reducing risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity, or it could be better treatment in the hospitals," she sad. "While this study doesn't say it, it points to some influence from both. We need more research to answer the question."
One factor that does not seem to have improved is public awareness of the symptoms of a heart attack and the need to call for medical help quickly, Meyerson said. "The time to get to the hospital after symptoms begin has not improved," she said. There was no significant change in the percentage of people who arrived at a hospital less than two hours after the onset of symptoms -- about one in every three cases.
Most people do know that crushing chest pain is a clear warning signal, but "it's not always crushing pain," Meyerson said. "It can be a feeling of indigestion or shortness of breath, lightheadedness or discomfort in another part of the body."
When there is uncertainty, it is better to act than to do nothing, she said. "If you are having chest pain with exertion, chest pain that comes and goes, with shortness of breath, it is always best to call for help or go to the hospital if you are near one," she added.
Medical authorities say it is best to call for help by dialing 911. Emergency medical personnel can arrive in minutes and begin treatment immediately.
"This study offers an opportunity to get the message out," said Dr. Alice K. Jacobs, a professor of medicine at Boston University and past president of the American Heart Association. "If you get to the hospital faster, the chance of a better outcome is improved. That is an important message for the public."
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