Telegraph mixes up heart attacks and cardiac arrests

1 September 2023
What was claimed

Delays to using a defibrillator puts “heart attack victims” at higher risk of death.

Our verdict

Defibrillators are used in cardiac arrest, not heart attacks. People who have had heart attacks need urgent medical treatment, but not CPR.

An article printed in the Daily Telegraph on 29 August mixes up cardiac arrests and heart attacks in a description of defibrillator access in the UK.

Journalists should ensure their reporting of medical issues is accurate. We have written before about errors in health reporting by media outlets, including this same mistake

Bad health information can introduce confusion about the causes and treatments of illnesses, create distrust of medical professionals, and distract from or undermine medical consensus and public health messaging.

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What’s the difference?

A heart attack refers to when an artery supplying blood to the heart becomes blocked, often due to a clot. Symptoms include chest pain that can spread around the body, feeling sweaty or clammy, and shortness of breath.

A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating properly and no blood is being supplied to the body. A person in cardiac arrest will die in minutes without CPR. They will be unresponsive and will not be breathing normally.

Both are medical emergencies and you should call 999 immediately if you suspect someone is having either, but a cardiac arrest is significantly more serious. A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest if it goes untreated.

What does the article say?

The article is headlined “Heart attack victims are 19mins from the nearest defibrillator”.

It repeats this in the article body and goes on to say “Survival rates after a heart attack are 70 per cent if a defibrillator is used within five minutes”.

The article then explains the findings of the study in question. 

But defibrillators aren’t used for “heart attack victims”. They are used when someone has had a cardiac arrest. Heart attacks can be treated medically with medications or procedures depending on the type.

Full Fact has contacted the Telegraph but has not received a response at the time of writing.

Featured image courtesy of Mark Stevenson

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the Daily Telegraph to request a correction regarding this claim.

The Telegraph published a correction on its website.

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