• Open Access

Symptom recognition of heart attack and stroke in nine European countries: a representative survey

Authors

  • Jutta Mata PhD,

    1. Research Scientist, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Berlin
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  • Ronald Frank MEd,

    1. Head of Surveys, Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung e.V, Nuremberg
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  • Gerd Gigerenzer PhD

    1. Research Scientist, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Berlin
    2. Director, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Berlin, Germany
    3. Director, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Berlin
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Jutta Mata
Department of Psychology
University of Basel
Missionsstrasse 62/64
Basel 4055
Switzerland
E-mail: jutta.mata@unibas.ch

Abstract

Background  Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death and a source of chronic disability.

Objectives  To assess recognition of and reaction to symptoms of heart attack and stroke, and how recognition is related to the frequency of consulting physicians and other information sources.

Design  Face-to-face computer-assisted personal interviews.

Participants  Representative sample of 10 228 persons in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain and UK, aged 14–98.

Main Outcome Variables  Recognition of heart attack and stroke symptoms and proper reaction to symptoms.

Results  Chest pain was the only heart attack symptom recognized by more than 50% of participants. Eight percent knew no symptoms. Of 14 stroke symptoms, none was recognized by more than 50% of participants; 19% could not identify any symptom. For both heart attack and stroke, Germans and Austrians recognized the largest number of symptoms. Persons in Italy, Poland, Russia and Spain knew only about half as many symptoms as in Germany or Austria. Only 51% of Europeans would call an ambulance when someone suffers a stroke, the fewest (33 and 34%) in Germany and Austria. In most countries, people who consulted their physician more frequently had no better recognition of heart attack or stroke symptoms.

Conclusions  The majority of persons in nine European countries recognize few heart attack and stroke symptoms; many do not know how to react. This low level of knowledge constitutes a major health risk and likely leads to delay in treatment, contributing to the high mortality and morbidity from these diseases.

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