EVERY six minutes someone in England is admitted to hospital with a heart attack – that adds up to about 230 people each day or 80,000 per year.
About seven out of ten people survive, a figure that rises to nine in ten for those who receive early hospital treatment, according to the British Heart Foundation.
“Often people don’t realise that 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,” says Dr Dawn Adamson, cardiologist and National Specialty Adviser for Heart Disease, NHS England.
“But make no mistake, a heart attack is a medical emergency and it is never too early to call 999 and describe your symptoms. Don’t put it off.”
So what signs should you be looking out for? The most common is pain in the centre or left side of the chest that feels heavy, tight, pressured or squeezed.
Milder discomfort – similar to indigestion or burning – may also be felt.
Other clues include pain that spreads to the arms, especially the left one, neck, jaw, back or tummy.
Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, feeling or being sick, uneasiness, and excessive coughing or wheezing can also be sure signs of trouble.
Often heart attacks are not seen as a woman’s problem, but this is untrue. Each year, as many as 35,000 women in the UK are admitted to hospital following a heart attack – that is four every hour.
And postmenopausal women are at increased risk because they produce less of the heart-friendly hormone oestrogen.
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Lifestyle factors such as smoking, a diet high in fat and being overweight can also increase your chances of having a heart attack.
People with diabetes and those with high blood pressure – which can particularly affect people from Black African, African Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds – are also more prone.
Healthy diets and lifestyle choices, routine blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and maintaining a healthy weight are among the preventative steps you can take.
Heart attack symptoms vary but they should never be dismissed. Acting fast and getting the correct medical help is crucial.
An estimated 1.1 million people alive in England today have survived a heart attack.
‘My left arm flailed around like it was in a salsa class with no partner’
TREVOR FELDMAN had a heart attack back in 2019. He was blue-lighted to a hospital before being transferred to a specialist centre to have an eight-hour triple heart bypass operation.
The day had started like any other. Trevor, 76, from Edgware, North London, was volunteering at a daycare centre for the elderly, helping with discussion groups, arranging chairs, serving dinner and lending people a hand to get on and off coaches.
Without warning, he suddenly felt strange and experienced a radiating pain in the middle of his chest.
“I excused myself, went to my car and when I shut the door, that’s when everything hit the fan,” he says.
“I broke out into a sweat and had this pain that was growing increasingly more intense. I had pain under my chin, my left arm started to flail around like it was in a salsa class with no partner.
“I had no control. I was in denial but knew something had gone badly wrong.”
Trevor frantically looked for his phone to call his daughter Stefanie.
“I didn’t want to panic her but said: ‘I feel a bit odd, can you come over but don’t call an ambulance?’ Thank God she had the sense to call one.
“The next thing I know I’m in an ambulance, being injected with morphine and tubes coming out every which way.”
Trevor was initially rushed to the operating theatre at the Royal Free Hospital, North London, for a stent (which allows blood to flow more freely) but it was soon realised that his condition was even more serious.
Thank God my daughter had the sense to call an ambulance
“They packed me up again and I went by ambulance to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where another team was waiting,” he recalls. There Trevor underwent an eight-hour triple bypass operation.
He remained in hospital for almost three weeks before returning home with the help of carers and his family.
Trevor then attended a comprehensive cardiac rehab programme at Barnet Hospital and has since fully recovered.
“The staff dealing with my condition were excellent there and I could feel myself getting stronger and stronger every week, which is mentally encouraging,” he says.
Trevor admits that he neglected his health during the 32 years he spent working as a black cab driver – a job he describes as sedentary and often extremely stressful.
He explains: “I was having typical cab driver’s food – fried eggs, fried bacon, sausages and at least three cokes a day.
“I was a real couch potato and didn’t do any exercise, unless snooker counts.
“A lot of people regard their body as a temple. I just regarded it as an amusement park and went along for the ride. That was my mindset – that it’s not going to happen to me, it’ll happen to someone else.”
Since the heart attack, Trevor has completely overhauled his diet and hasn’t looked back.
He says: “Now I’ve adjusted the whole thing. I’m very lucky with the fact that my daughter is a qualified nutritional dietician.
“I’ve eliminated a lot of the sugary things and every other day I have a full salad.
“I also have a lot of fish: salmon, sea bass, herring. I often eat vegetable soup and lentils. I’ve cut out rice as well and I’ve substituted it with bulgur wheat, which is delicious.”
Trevor describes recovery as a winding road and says that this episode is no longer on his radar, with the only reminder being his operation scar.
He’ll always be grateful for his daughter’s quick thinking, though, and encourages others to do the same if someone around them displays any heart attack symptoms.
“It’s up to other people around you to call 999 if you’re incapable of doing it yourself,” he says. “At least that way you’ve got professional help coming to assist you.”
‘My mum had passed away four years earlier – I wasn’t ready to lose another parent’
ALARM bells started ringing for Stefanie Daniels when she received a worrying call from her dad, saying, “Stef, listen, you may need to come and get me.”
Stefanie says her father Trevor had always been more laidback than a “collapsed deckchair”. But that day, his tone was different.
The 43-year-old business owner from Bushey, Hertfordshire, says: “I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but knew from his voice that it was serious, and I just went into autopilot.
“My mum passed away four years earlier and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to another parent.”
Trevor told her not to call an ambulance, but Stefanie did the opposite – quick thinking that almost certainly saved his life.
She told the 999 operator that her dad was having a suspected heart attack and then went to find him.
She adds: “I was a bit worried I was wasting their time but when I found dad in the car, he was yellow, sweating and holding his chest.”
Tests performed by the ambulance crew confirmed Trevor was having a heart attack. He was blue-lighted to hospital before being transferred to a specialist centre for an eight-hour triple bypass op.
Trevor has since recovered and Stefanie urges anyone experiencing heart attack symptoms to act quickly and dial 999.
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“When you feel that pain, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone,” she says.
LOOK OUT FOR THESE SIGNS…
The early symptoms of a heart attack can vary. These don’t always feel severe and can be easy to dismiss, but it’s never too early to call 999 and describe your symptoms.
Look out for:
- 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, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and upper abdomen. Sometimes the pain is in one of these areas but not the others
- Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or sweating
- Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- Shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- A feeling of unease
It can be easy to dismiss the early signs of a heart attack. Learn the symptoms at nhs.uk/heartattack
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