Maintaining a healthy heart and knowing the early signs of a heart attack

NHS England’s top medical director for cardiovascular disease in the South East is urging people to maintain a healthy heart and to know the early signs of a heart attack.

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The message from Dr Shahed Ahmad comes as the NHS launches a new lifesaving campaign across England to encourage people to dial 999 when they are experiencing early signs of a heart attack.

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 has also shown that fewer than half of people would dial 999 if they or a loved one experienced lesser known symptoms of heart attacks.

Dr Ahmad said: “Chest pain, or the squeezing across the chest, are two symptoms that people often associate with having a heart attack. However, there are many other common early symptoms to be mindful of such as sweating, shortness of breath, feeling weak or lightheaded or a feeling of unease that do not go away.”

The campaign – the first of the NHS ‘Help Us Help You’ campaigns specific to heart attack – will feature a new NHS advert which shows a person experiencing some of the common early symptoms, reminding viewers to seek urgent medical attention if they are experiencing symptoms.

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 shows that whilst 73% of those surveyed in the South East understood that pain in the chest is a symptom of a heart attack, just 43% knew sweating was a symptom. Only 27% understood feeling weak was a sign, with similar numbers understanding feeling lightheaded (28%) or a feeling of general unease (28%) were also symptoms

Research also identified that 78% of people in the South East thought a heart attack was the same as a cardiac arrest, and fewer than half of the people said they would dial 999 if they or a loved one experienced lesser known symptoms of heart attacks (46%).

The new NHS campaign will 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. A 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.

Dr Ahmad added: “In some cases, maintaining a healthy heart and preventing a heart attack can be the best form of treatment.

“High blood pressure is the largest risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Many people will not realise that they have it and if left untreated, it can increase your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

“If you’re 40 and over, it is advised that you have your blood pressure checked at least every 5 years which you can do at your GP surgery, some pharmacies, or you can purchase a blood pressure monitoring machine to use at home.

“As a general guide, high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher (or 150/90mmHg or higher if you’re over the age of 80). Ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. However, everyone’s blood pressure will be slightly different. What’s considered low or high for you may be normal for someone else.”