If you, or someone close to you, were experiencing the first warning signs of a heart attack, would you know what to do? Chances are, the average American would have difficulty answering “yes” to that question, according to a study published earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And even though Americans of color are at a disproportionately high risk for cardiovascular disease compared to Caucasians, they are even less likely to be aware of these warning signs and what actions to take in response.

CDC researchers examined data from the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, covering nearly 72,000 people in 13 states and the District of Columbia. The study found that only about one in four Americans is aware of the five warning signs of heart attack, which are:

    • Pain or discomfort in the chest;
    • Shortness of breath;
    • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back;
    • Weakness, lightheadedness or faintness; and
    • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder.

Even more disturbing, the research revealed that only 16% of African Americans and 14% of Hispanics knew the warning signs and how to respond to them, compared to 30% of whites.

“It is clear that the overall public awareness of heart attack signs and the importance of calling for emergency medical assistance quickly in the event that someone is experiencing a heart attack or stroke was alarmingly low,” concludes the study’s lead author, epidemiologist Jing Fang. According to the CDC, about half of all heart attack deaths occur within one hour of the first warning signs.

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