Toronto, Ontario – Thousands of Canadians with heart attacks are putting their health at risk by bypassing 9-1-1 or a local emergency number and driving themselves to the emergency room instead.

“They are committing a mistake with potentially grave consequences,” said Dr. Madhu Natarajan at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2008, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. His study, which took place at the Hamilton Health Sciences Centre’s hospitals in Ontario, looked at 487 consecutive patients with heart attacks who were admitted to three emergency rooms. “Approximately 40 per cent of the patients in our study drove themselves to the ER,” Dr. Natarajan said.

Patients who drove or had family members drive them were more likely to be male and younger, with no history of cardiac trouble. They experienced a longer wait for diagnostic procedures and for treatment.

“When it comes to heart attacks, every second counts,” Dr. Natarajan said. “The faster you get to the hospital, the faster you get treatment.” He said that emergency services are preferable to driving around in the middle of the night or in rush hour with chest pains looking for care, and that during the first hour of a heart attack, people are at high risk of developing irregular heartbeats, called arrhythmias, that can be fatal.

Ambulances that deliver emergency cardiac care, with the ability to acquire electrocardiograms and diagnose a heart attack, are well established in Europe and are becoming established in Toronto, Hamilton, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax.

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