A new survey published today by NHS England has revealed a lack of confidence in the community in recognising the symptoms of a heart attack, with over one third (37%) of Black people saying they were not confident that they could recognise the signs.
Furthermore, almost half (45%) claimed they would not call 999 if they or a loved one were displaying chest pain – the most common symptom of a heart attack.
The findings come as part of NHS England’s ongoing Help Us, Help You campaign to raise awareness of heart attack symptoms and help save lives.
Heart attack symptoms and signs can vary from person to person, but can include squeezing across the chest and a feeling of unease. Symptoms don’t always feel severe and some people may have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling or being sick and back or jaw pain without any chest pain. Anyone experiencing heart attack symptoms should call 999.
People’s chances of surviving a heart attack are far higher if they seek care earlier – overall around 7 in 10 people survive a heart attack, which increases to more than 9 in 10 for those who reach hospital early to receive treatment.
Carol Ighofose is a GP, and a heart attack survivor. She says: “I cannot stress enough the importance of getting things checked out if you or anyone you’re with have any possible symptoms of a heart attack. Heart attacks are more frequent in men but women are certainly at risk too – particularly as they get older. I had pain that felt like indigestion, which can be quite a common sign, but people don’t always know that. The pain wasn’t severe, however, being a GP I knew that didn’t matter – I needed to do something about it quickly.”
The new survey also shows that there is real confusion between heart attack and cardiac arrest. Almost three quarters (73%)* of Black respondents said they are unaware of the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest, with almost two thirds (59%) wrongly believing a cardiac arrest is another name for a heart attack.
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, but 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.
Those from Black backgrounds have a greater risk of high blood pressure compared with the sider population. This is a key risk factor for heart attacks, so it’s important for us to be particularly vigilant about the signs and act quickly.
Carol added: “Please don’t be tempted to ‘wait and see’ – call 999 right away. The longer you leave it, the more risk there is of further damage to your heart. By acting quickly you could save your life or someone else’s. I’m grateful that I knew the signs and that I’m able to live a full life after recovering”.
While the most common symptom is chest pain, symptoms can vary from person to person. Other symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- A feeling of pain, pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your 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 tummy
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- shortness of breath
- feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- an overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
- coughing or wheezing
The latest NHS figures show that there were more than 84,000 hospital heart attack admissions in England during 2021/22, up by more than 7,000 compared to the previous year when fewer people came forward for care during the pandemic.
Visit nhs.uk/heartattack for more information.