ATLANTA (AP) -- About half of all deaths from heart disease happen before the patient can get to a hospital, the government reported Thursday, a finding health officials called alarming.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the study, timed for release on Valentine's Day, shows the need for a new national push to recognize the early warning signs of heart attacks.
Heart disease is the nation's leading cause of death.
The study examined the 729,000 heart disease deaths reported in the United States in 1999. About 47 percent were sudden deaths that happened before the patient could get to a hospital, the CDC said.
In 17 percent, the patient was dead on arrival or died in the emergency room.
''These high numbers of sudden deaths from heart disease, and the fact that they occur outside of the hospital, are alarming,'' CDC director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan said.
Sudden cardiac deaths remain high despite years of advances in prevention and treatment, and improvements in emergency medical response. The CDC said many people still don't recognize early signs of heart failure.
Those include cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, in addition to pain in the chest, arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
People can reduce their risk years in advance by eating low-fat foods, staying active and not smoking.
Dr. Douglas Zipes, president of the American College of Cardiology, said the study also shows the need to train more people in CPR and make external defibrillators more available.
Women were more likely to die quickly of cardiac arrest, with 52 percent of their heart disease deaths happening before they could reach a hospital. The figure for men was 42 percent.
The risk of quick heart-disease death appeared to increase with age. For people over age 85, 61 percent of the deaths happened too soon to get to a hospital.
Altogether, cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure, kills about 1 million Americans a year.
On the Net:
Prevention information: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/actintime/index.htm
American Heart Association: http://www.americanheart.org
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