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"People suffering a heart attack and not going to the hospital quickly enough is a problem we have not been able to solve"

Holli A. DeVon 

People often fail to recognize symptoms of heart attack, new nursing professor says.

Holli A. DeVon would like to know why people experiencing a heart attack wait to go to the emergency department when symptoms occur.

She has found in her previous research that many people who have a heart attack try something like Tylenol or antacids to alleviate their symptoms rather than calling 911 or going directly to the emergency department. But that is a mistake. An intervention such as angioplasty can save heart muscle, but it needs to be done quickly, within an hour or so of the onset of symptoms.

Nursing research at UC Davis

Now DeVon, an authority on whether heart attack symptoms differ between men and women, is bringing her research and expertise to the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. A former critical care nurse in cardiovascular units, DeVon is an associate professor.

Since 1999, deaths from heart disease in the United States have declined by 25 percent. To improve survival rates and reduce complications of heart disease, more people must get to the hospital sooner, DeVon says. She is trying to find out why people don’t recognize they are having a heart attack, which increases their delay in getting to a hospital.

Many people assume that the symptoms of a heart attack are clear – a crushing pain in the chest or loss of consciousness. But now research has shown that symptoms are often not that obvious, particularly for women.

DeVon questioned people who were in the hospital for acute coronary syndromes, the more technical term used for a heart attack. She compared the answers given by men to those given by women.

Her study showed some significant differences in symptoms between men and women, and that the women did tend to delay longer going to the hospital. The study findings revealed that about two-thirds of those interviewed did not mention chest pain as a reason for deciding to go to the emergency department. People who waited longer to go to the emergency department were older and experienced intermittent pain.

Seeking help quickly

DeVon’s work addresses one of the most persistent problems in American health care. An estimated 13 million Americans experience an episode of acute coronary syndrome each year. And, fewer than 30 percent of the people in her study who experienced those events, made it to the hospital within three hours or less.

"People suffering a heart attack and not going to the hospital quickly enough is a problem we have not been able to solve," DeVon says.

At UC Davis, she will be working with an interprofessional and interdisciplinary faculty team through the Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership Graduate Group, which leads the doctoral and master’s degree programs for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. DeVon’s most recent research grant, a $1.9 million award from the National Institutes of Health, focuses on the influence of gender on symptom characteristics during acute coronary syndromes. The interdisciplinary study includes specialists from UC Davis Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

 UC Davis Health > Features
UC Davis Health

Fall 2010

Fall 2010 Issue Cover
Fall 2010 Issue

The need is significant. More than 81 million Americans over age 20 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. Peripheral vascular disease is estimated to affect up to 10 million Americans. UC Davis Health System is improving cardiovascular health through state-of-the-art patient care, cutting-edge research, education and outreach.

Holli DeVon: People often fail to recognize symptoms of heart attack