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NHS launches lifesaving campaign to tackle heart attack myths

Posted on February 15th, 2022

Backed by celebrities including One Foot in the Grave actor Richard Wilson and Sky Sports presenter ‘Tubes’ – the campaign will tackle a number of common heart attack myths, after research identified that three in four people thought a heart attack was the same as a cardiac arrest.

The new polling also showed that fewer than half of people said they would dial 999 if they or a loved one experienced lesser known symptoms of heart attacks.

From Monday, a new NHS advert will show a person experiencing some of the common early symptoms of a heart attack – sweating, uneasiness and chest tightness – and reminds viewers to dial 999 if they experience the symptoms of a heart attack.

The campaign, which will run from 14 February to 31 March 2022, is the first of the NHS ‘Help Us Help You’ campaigns specific to heart attacks.

Speaking of the launch, England’s top doctor said thousands of deaths could be prevented with earlier treatment if people recognise these vital signs.

NHS medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “Sadly, cardiovascular disease causes a quarter of all deaths across the country and we have identified this as the single biggest area where we can save lives over the next decade.

“This new NHS campaign will be a vital tool in that lifesaving mission – helping people to recognise when they or someone around them is experiencing a heart attack and when to seek early medical help cannot be underestimated.

“It can be easy to dismiss early symptoms as they don’t always feel severe, but it is never too early to dial 999 in this circumstance – and the faster you act, the better the chance of a full recovery”.

There are more than 80,000 hospital heart attack admissions in England every year. The overall survival rate for people experiencing a heart attack is seven in 10 and this increases to nine in 10 for those who come forward for early hospital treatment.

New NHS research also shows that whilst 70% of those surveyed understood that pain in the chest is a symptom of a heart attack, just 41% knew sweating was a symptom and only 27% understood feeling weak, lightheaded or a feeling of general unease were also symptoms.

Richard Wilson, actor and director, said: “I’ve battled with my heart health for a while, and since experiencing a heart attack I’ve really opened my eyes to the impact it’s had on my life.

“I got more tired, I’m able to walk around less and my memory has suffered as well. The scariest part is that at the time I did not know enough about heart attacks or heart health.

“I’d advise everyone, especially those aged 50+ to look up the symptoms of a heart attack and if you suspect you have any of these to call 999 immediately”.

Peter Dale (Tubes), presenter on Sky Sports’ Soccer AM who experienced a heart attack at 36, explains how his symptoms didn’t seem serious to him at first: “I had no idea that I was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack at the time. On the morning of the attack, I went home after playing football thinking I had indigestion – I just didn’t feel quite right and both of my arms started to feel numb.

“I managed to text my mum who called an ambulance and only when the paramedics arrived did I realise this was a heart attack.

“People need to be aware of the symptoms – it’s not a case of clutching your chest and falling to the ground – early signs aren’t always severe but if you experience any symptoms, call 999. Acting quickly saved my life”.

The new NHS campaign will also highlight to the public the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.

A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the heart becomes blocked, which can starve it of oxygen potentially causing serious muscle damage. Whilst the early signs of a heart attack can vary, the most common include squeezing across the chest, sweating and a sense that something just isn’t right. The person will be conscious and breathing.

A cardiac arrest is different – it usually occurs suddenly and without warning with the person quickly losing consciousness. Their heart stops, they will have no pulse and sadly people experiencing a cardiac arrest will usually die within minutes if they do not receive treatment. A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest.

Professor Nick Linker, consultant cardiologist and NHS national clinical director for heart disease, said: “These survey findings present what is a familiar picture to NHS cardiology colleagues.

“Often people don’t realise they’re having a heart attack, either because they don’t recognise the early signs, or because they don’t consider them severe enough to trouble the NHS.

“But make no mistake, a heart attack is a medical emergency, and it’s never too early to call 999 and describe your symptoms”.

Shushila Naran Hirani, a 63-year-old retired shopkeeper from East London who has had a heart attack describes her experience: “I had some chest pain in the night but I ignored it and went to sleep. The next morning I had the same pain in my left arm.

“I did not realise I was having a heart attack, I thought the pain was linked to some heavy lifting I had been doing earlier that day.

“My advice to others with symptoms of a heart attack would be to call 999 straight away”.

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Every minute counts when you’re having a heart attack – it’s a medical emergency, and immediate treatment could be the difference between life and death.

“It can be easy to dismiss early symptoms of a suspected heart attack, but don’t think twice about dialling 999. The NHS and our emergency services are there for everyone, and one quick call could save your life”.

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care said: “Thousands of deaths can be prevented with earlier treatment if people recognise the symptoms of a heart attack.

“With this new lifesaving NHS campaign, the first of its kind to highlight the symptoms of heart attacks, we’re urging people to call 999 if they experience any of the warning signs.

“Don’t delay if you spot the signs, it could save your life”.

Further information

  • Campaign video and materials
  • It can be easy to dismiss the early signs of a heart attack but it’s never too early to call 999 and describe your symptoms. The faster you act, the better the chance of a positive outcome.
  • Heart and circulatory disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK and is the largest cause of premature mortality in deprived areas.
  • Between April 2019 and March 2020 over 86,500 people had a heart attack (and were admitted to hospital) across England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • In the 1960s more than 7 out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal. Today at least 7 out of 10 people survive
  • An estimated 1.1 million people alive in England today have survived a heart attack.
  • The NHS is aiming to restore diagnosis, monitoring and management of hypertension, atrial fibrillation and high cholesterol to pre-pandemic levels in 2022/23. There are a number of ways the NHS is supporting patients to diagnose and manage their risk of CVD including;
    • Rolling out blood pressure checks in high street pharmacies for the over 40s as part of the 2021/22 community pharmacy contract.
      o  Implementing the NHS Blood Pressure @Home initiative with over 220,000 blood pressure monitors allocated across England to enable patients to measure their blood pressure well and remotely, which reduces their risk of stroke and heart attack, as well as reducing the need for face-to-face appointments.
  • New attitudinal research:
    • 62% would dial 999 if they or a loved one was experiencing commonly known heart attack symptoms, including squeezing across the chest and a feeling of unease, however this drops to 45% for lesser-known heart attack symptoms including experiencing shortness of breath, sweating and light headedness.
    • 75% of those surveyed thought a heart attack could be referred to as a cardiac arrest,
  • Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
    • chest pain – a sensation of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across the chest
    • pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm is affected, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy (abdomen)
    • feeling lightheaded or dizzy
    • sweating
    • shortness of breath
    • feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
    • an overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)
    • coughing or wheezing
    • Although the chest pain is often severe, some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion. While the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is chest pain, women are more likely to experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

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