‘She’ll Be Right’ Isn’t Always Right

The diagnosis of heart attack. Phonendoscope and vaccine with drugs. Medical concept.

The diagnosis of heart attack. Phonendoscope and vaccine with drugs. Medical concept.

When it comes critical health events, time is of the essence. New Zealand health professionals, including those at the Heart Foundation are concerned our signature ‘she’ll be right’ means we are not reacting fast enough to signs of illness, including heart attacks.

If you, or someone you know, suspects they are experiencing a heart attack, seek medical help immediately by dialling 111

Too many New Zealanders are placing themselves at increased risk of death or permanent heart damage by putting off that important call, says Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin.

Gerry, who works as an Interventional Cardiologist at Waikato Hospital, said it can be frustrating to see people turning up at an emergency department many hours after heart attack symptoms began. “The traditional Kiwi ‘she’ll be right’ attitude can be fatal,” he says.

“When a heart attack happens, life-threatening rhythm problems are common. As such, early access to a defibrillator is really important to save lives. This is why we recommend calling 111 immediately. Also, the earlier the blocked artery is opened up, the less long-term damage there is to the heart muscle. Speed is critical.”

Gerry says that people often overthink the need to call an ambulance.

“People can hesitate for a number of reasons, including a sense of embarrassment, uncertainty about whether a person is having a heart attack, and even feeling that they somehow need permission from others before dialling 111.

“In this kind of situation, people can start second-guessing themselves and doubts can creep in leading to inaction.

“It’s okay to call for an ambulance, even if it turns out not to be a heart attack. Let the medical professionals do their job.”

It’s vital to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and act accordingly.

Symptoms  include:

  • chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more;
  • pain that spreads to the jaw, shoulders or back;
  • excessive sweating;
  • shortness of breath;
  • nausea.

“It’s not always the dramatic chest-crushing pain that people imagine it to be.”

Furthermore, women sometimes experience different symptoms to men. The most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort.

However, women are more likely to experience other less obvious symptoms such as:

  • discomfort in the upper back,
  • nausea,
  • sweating
  • unusual fatigue.

Heart disease is New Zealand’s biggest killer, claiming more than one life every 90 minutes. Many of these deaths could be prevented, so if in doubt, dial 111.