NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 5, 2007

When it comes to a heart attack, reluctance to call 911 could make the difference between life and death, says the Wall Street Journal.

Gender differences in calling for rescue services emerged in a recent Minneapolis Heart Institute study.  According to its authors:

  • Some 37 percent of men from rural communities arrived at a hospital in an ambulance, compared with 49 percent of rural women.
  • Rural patients were treated six minutes sooner if they called 911; patients from urban areas got their arteries opened 18 minutes faster when they called an ambulance (as opposed to driving).
  • Urban men and women called 911 in equal percentages -- 65 percent.

Whatever the gender, the bigger issue is that only about half of people in the throes of a heart attack decide to call 911, and that can have important consequences not only for survival, but also for long-term health, says the Journal:

  • Up to 5 percent of patients go into cardiac arrest en route to the hospital; if not revived within two minutes, odds of survival plummet.
  • Further, the faster the heart-attack causing clot is cleared, the quicker blood supply is restored to heart muscle; that minimizes permanent damage that can lead to chronic heart failure.

Heart experts and public-health officials have long been stymied in efforts to get people to pick up the phone instead of their car keys when experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath, says the Journal. Conventional wisdom is that people balk at calling 911 because they're in denial. But embarrassment and loss of control may be more important. Whatever the reason, patients take a much greater risk if they don't start the process with a timely call to 911.

Source: Ron Winslow, "The Call That Can Save Your Life in a Heart Attack," Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2007.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Health Issues