Getting help during a heart attack: ‘delayers’ vs ‘survivors’

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

If you thought you were having a heart attack, would part of you worry about being embarrassed if it turned out your symptoms weren’t that serious after all? Would you dread the attention of an ambulance coming to your home?  If so, you might be considered a “delayer”.

On the other hand, would you likely call 911 immediately because you believe that embarrassment passes quickly and without long-term damage, while a heart attack does not? If so, you’d be considered a “survivor”.

Check this chart to see which category you belong in – and then take whatever steps are required to move yourself immediately from delaying to surviving.  

Help During a Heart Attack:

‘Delayers’ vs ‘Survivors’




Knowledge of symptoms Don’t know that women’s heart symptoms could be different compared to men, or don’t think symptoms are severe enough to call an ambulance. Know that a heart attack can produce a wide range of symptoms in women. Realize that symptoms can come on gradually, come and go, and may not be severe. Know that the symptoms of a second heart attack may be different from those of the first.
Response to symptoms Tell themselves that symptoms are probably not serious, or  wait for them to go away on their own. May ask others what they think is causing the symptoms, or try treatments for other conditions. Only call for help after all other treatments fail. Take symptoms seriously and let doctors sort out the cause. Realize that while many other conditions can cause similar symptoms, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Perception of risk Do not know their own heart risk, or don’t think a heart attack can happen to them. Realize that heart attacks are common in women and can happen at any age, even without risk factors for heart disease; know their own heart risk.
Concern with troubling others Fear that their trip to the hospital will trouble or disturb others, including family members or doctors. Don’t want to call at night or on a weekend. Realize that protecting yourself is the best way to continue to care for others. Know that the hospital staff and emergency responders are there to help, and that doctors would be happy to diagnose you with something less serious than a heart attack.
Embarrassment Do not want to deal with the attention of an ambulance coming; worried about being embarrassed if symptoms turn out not to be serious. Realize that embarrassment will pass quickly and without long-term damage, but a heart attack will not.
Action taken once decision is made Call their family doctor, have someone drive them to the hospital, or drive themselves. Call 911! Know that calling 911 is the fastest way to get treatment even before getting to hospital, and that calling your family doctor or driving yourself to the hospital only delays treatment.  See also: “Knowing & Going: Act Fast When Heart Attack Symptoms Hit”

5 thoughts on “Getting help during a heart attack: ‘delayers’ vs ‘survivors’

  1. I’ve been diagonised with anxiety so no doctors or ER staff takes me seriously. In their defense I have had many false alarms, but now I’ve taken to ignoring symptoms because I know the ER will give me a lecture about dealing with anxiety, even though I’ve done everything possible to deal with it.

    I fear one day it really will be a heart attack but no one will believe me. It feels so real every time and doesn’t follow classic anxiety/panic symptoms. I paid to see a cardiologist who did a stress test and laughed and said at my age I was fine (I’m 28) and wouldn’t listen to my worrying symptoms. I’m pretty sure I have PAD and am not sure how much I believe that my aching elbows, chest discomfort, frequent belching, back/shoulder/arm pain are all anxiety. I wish I had insurance because I can’t afford to keep going to doctors to be dismissed based on my ‘history’ of anxiety.

    I’m pretty sure many women are in a similar situation of practically being laughed at by doctors so of course they don’t seek help in time.


    1. It’s a double-edged sword, Lisa. Few things are more anxiety-producing than thinking you’re having a heart attack – even when you’re not. Here are a few links I hope might help: I wrote here about the frustration caused by being inaccurately labeled as an “anxious female”. Yet we also know that among those who do live with anxiety, their symptoms can feel alarmingly similar to cardiac signs even when they are not cardiac. Given your age, it’s actually not surprising that docs aren’t snapping to attention when you see them. Meanwhile, I hope you are seeking help for anxiety – because whether your symptoms are heart-related or not, you do need to be addressing the anxiety that’s understandably accompanying your distress. You don’t want to feel so paralyzed with worrying that you’re less able to live your life.


  2. I was a “delayer” and it almost meant I didn’t have the chance to become a “survivor”.This is such critically important information for all people – thx for sharing this with us here.
    Love your blog,
    A new fan
    Marika (CABG x2, December 2009)


  3. I was a “delayer” and it almost cost me my life.

    Now when I have a twinge I go to the ER immediately. I have been admitted on several occasions and have had stents put in. Don’t delay like I did. I’m a lucky survivor!


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