Ignore ‘Hollywood heart attack’

A new survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has found that four out of 10 people in the United Kingdom get their information about heart attacks from Hollywood movies or TV dramas.

This would be a wonderful public education tool — if the fictionalised versions were accurate. Sadly, says the BHF, they are not. The “Hollywood heart attack” is dangerously misleading and because of it, many of us ignore the real symptoms until it is too late.

“The heart attacks you see on TV and in the movies aren’t what many of us actually experience,” says David Barker of the BHF. “People need to understand the true story.”

The Hollywood heart attack — think Elliott Gould in Ocean’s 13 — involves dramatic chest clutching and collapse. But in reality, symptoms vary.

They can be woolly, ambiguous and easy to ignore. It is very common to have a central chest pain that can spread to the arms, neck and jaw. You may feel sweaty, light-headed, sick or short of breath. You may simply feel a dull ache, mild discomfort or heavy sensation in your chest that makes you feel ill. Or there may be a chest pain that spreads to your back or stomach.

Some people say their pain was like bad indigestion. “Because it is not what they think a heart attack is like, people decide to sleep on it, or wait a bit,” says Barker. “But you should always call the emergency services.”

Every year almost 250 000 people in the UK have a heart attack. A third of these die before reaching hospital. It seems the willing suspension of disbelief is — quite literally — killing them. —

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