7 in 10 Singaporeans can’t tell when a heart attack is happening – because TV shows portray only the dramatic symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack are not always as dramatic as TV shows and movies portray them to be.
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On TV, an elderly man clutches his chest before keeling over and whimpering – to many, that’s how a heart attack looks like.

But in reality, signs of a heart attack can be a lot less obvious.

A study published on Friday (Mar 8) by Manulife found that seven in 10 Singaporeans cannot recognise the early, milder signs of a heart attack.

The study, based on 500 respondents, said that while 80 per cent of them indicated chest pain as a key symptom of a heart attack, only a minority were aware of the milder symptoms.

Only 11 per cent of respondents were aware that stomach discomfort is a possible early symptom of a heart attack. Other possible early symptoms include fatigue, jaw pain and nausea. But Manulife found that only 25 per cent, 26 per cent and 28 per cent of respondents were aware of these symptoms respectively.

According to the report, for the majority, the inability to identify the early signs of a heart attack was due to its dramatic portrayal on TV shows and in movies.

“TV shows and movies have taught us to recognise dramatic symptoms of a heart attack – crushing chest pain, profuse sweating, fainting.

“The problem is, people then miss the warning symptoms of an early heart attack, which are almost always milder. And that could cost lives,” said professor Carolyn Lam, senior consultant at the department of cardiology, and director of women’s heart health at The Women’s Heart Clinic, National Heart Centre Singapore.

The study also found that half of the respondents had previously encountered a moment when they thought there might be something wrong with their hearts. Of those, around 60 per cent did not seek medical advice.

The majority of respondents who did not do so assumed that the symptoms were only temporary.

According to the study, an average of 17 people in Singapore die every day from cardiovascular disease.

Gender-specific warning signs

The study also found that eight in 10 respondents weren’t aware that women and men may experience different heart attack warning signs.

According to Health Plus – a health and wellness web resource by Mount Elizabeth Hospitals – the symptoms men typically face are right-side chest discomfort or pain, dull aches, rapid or irregular heartbeat, stomach discomfort, and breaking out in cold sweat.

In contrast, women usually experience sleep disturbances, anxiety, unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue, indigestion or gas-like pain, jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw, and throat discomfort.

According to Manulife’s study, heart disease and stroke are the number one causes of death for women. Together, heart disease and stroke have claimed more lives in a single year than breast cancer has over a four-year period.

However, only 15 per cent of women in Singapore were aware of “just how deadly cardiovascular disease is”, the study said.

The results of Manulife’s study were released on Friday (Mar 8), in conjunction with the Singapore Heart Foundation’s Go Red for Women campaign, which seeks to bring heart health messages to women in Singapore.

In addition, Manulife said it was also launching its “Stop the Drama” campaign to raise awareness on the subtle warning signs of a heart attack.

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