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Your Healthy Family: New study says American need to learn more about heart emergencies

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Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.

Knowing how to spot a heart health emergency and knowing what to do can save someone’s life.

But, a new Cleveland Clinic survey shows many Americans often confuse symptoms and aren’t sure how to help.

The survey results showed 87 percent of respondents believe cardiac arrest is another term for heart attack – but they’re actually very different.

“Somebody that has had a cardiac arrest, that’s not the same as a heart attack,” said Steve Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Cardiac arrest is when the heart is either beating wildly or not beating at all and there’s no blood flow.”

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, can be a life-saver during cardiac arrest, but the survey revealed only one in six people know the recommended technique.

“There’s been a change in recent years to chest compressions only, without mouth-to-mouth breathing,” said Dr. Nissen. “Many people didn’t know that in the adult, really all you have to do are chest compressions and many people didn’t know the rate at which to do them. The best rate is somewhere between 100 and 120 times per minute.”

When it comes to a heart attack – where a coronary artery becomes blocked – people often confuse the symptoms with those of a stroke.

“Many people in our survey thought that having slurred speech or weakness is actually a symptom of heart attack, when in fact that’s a symptom of stroke,” said Dr. Nissen. “People who have a heart attack are going to have pain; usually in the center of the chest; it can go to the jaw or down the left, or down both arms. It’s often associated with nausea or shortness of breath.”

The survey also found that most people having a heart attack know to call 9-1-1 first, but only about one third know to chew an aspirin as well.

“Many people don’t know that it’s a good idea to chew an aspirin, not a baby aspirin, but a full sized 325 milligram of aspirin, that, in a few cases, can actually stop a heart attack,” said Dr. Nissen.

In addition to calling 9-1-1 and chewing an aspirin, Dr. Nissen recommends taking nitroglycerin, if it’s available.

According to the survey, only 27 percent of people say there’s an automated external defibrillator, or AED, at their workplace. An AED can help shock the heart back into a normal rhythm and save someone’s life during cardiac arrest, so it’s important to know where it’s located at work and in public places.

Complete survey results are available online in Cleveland Clinic’s Newsroom.

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