HHS/OWH Steps Up Heart Attack Awareness Efforts

Women’s Low Symptom Awareness and Hesitance to Call 9-1-1 has Dangerous Impacts

Washington, DC, February 1, 2011 – A woman suffers a heart attack every minute in the United States. But according to a 2009 American Heart Association (AHA) survey, only half of women said they would call 9-1-1 if they thought they were having a heart attack – and many women did not even recognize several key symptoms. This combination has led to dangerous consequences. Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health (OWH) and its partners are introducing a new national initiative to increase awareness and recognition of the seven most common heart attack symptoms among women and to encourage the use of the 9-1-1 emergency response system when these symptoms occur.

The Make the Call, Don’t Miss A Beat campaign aims to educate, engage and empower women and their families to recognize the seven symptoms of a heart attack that most commonly present themselves in women. Only half of women who participated in the AHA survey recognized chest pain and pain in the arm, neck and shoulders as typical symptoms of a heart attack. Even fewer women could identify other common heart attack symptoms, including shortness of breath (29%), chest tightness (17%), nausea (15%), and fatigue (7%).


“Heart disease is the number one killer of women and awareness of this fact has grown significantly over the past decade,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Our goal is to make certain that women recognize heart attack symptoms and take action by calling for help immediately.”

This new effort is consistent with the Healthy People 2020 goal to increase the proportion of adults aged 20 years and older who are aware of the early warning symptoms and signs of a heart attack and the importance of accessing rapid emergency care by calling 9–1–1 or another emergency number.

“The delay in treating women who don’t get emergency care quickly is a matter of life and death,” said Dr. Lori Mosca, Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and Director of Preventive Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “This delay may be for many reasons. Some women told us they didn’t know they were having a heart attack. Or they thought their symptoms would not be taken seriously by health care professionals. Others indicated that they were busy taking care of others, and that they delayed seeking medical attention for several days. This can’t continue because women need to understand that their delay may cost them their lives,” said Dr. Mosca.


The Office on Women’s Health urges women to make the call to 9-1-1 immediately, if they experience any one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain, discomfort, pressure or squeezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
  • Unusual upper body pain, or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulder, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Representatives of the country’s key emergency services’ organizations have joined the Office on Women’s Health in this important effort to spread the word that women should call 9-1-1 when experiencing heart attack symptoms, so they can receive life-saving treatment in a timely manner. “I have seen firsthand how critical access to timely emergency response can be,” said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association. “Always err on the side of caution and make the call at the first sign of symptoms. Our nation’s 9-1-1 telecommunicators are trained to get you the help you need when seconds count.”

The new Make the Call initiative will include a comprehensive public service advertising campaign including: TV, radio, print, and outdoor materials; a campaign website,; a strong social and news media effort; and partner- and community-based outreach. For example, WomenHeart “Champions”— women who are heart attack survivors or women living with heart disease, will promote prevention and awareness in their local communities. The Spirit of Women Hospital Network will integrate the music and lyrics of the Make the Call PSA as part of their National Day of Dance planned for February 26, 2011. In order to further extend this campaign’s reach at the grassroots level, the Office on Women’s Health recently announced the recipients of 10 regional grants. Grantee activities may include workshops and speaker presentations, health care provider outreach, and distribution of the campaign’s educational materials.

The Make the Call, Don’t Miss a Beat campaign is a national public education campaign led by the HHS Office on Women’s Health. Other supporters of this campaign include: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, Association of Black Cardiologists, CDC: Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, D.C. Department of Health, Events of the Heart, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, National Association of State 911 Administrators, National Black Nurses Association, National Emergency Number Association, National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, Spirit of Women, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and WiseWoman. For more information on the campaign, visit

Office on Women’s Health

The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) was established in 1991. OWH coordinates the efforts of all the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ agencies and offices involved in women’s health. The office works to improve the health and well-being of women and girls in the United States through its programs, by educating health professionals and motivating behavior change in consumers through the dissemination of health information.

Back to News