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Half of patients delay seeking help for heart attacks

Wide-scale ignorance of heart attack symptoms

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Around half of all patients who are having a heart attack delay seeking medical help for more than an hour and fail to realise their perilous condition, according to a survey published today by charity the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The BHF survey of its Heart Matters magazine readers, carried out by Toluna, combined with a survey issued to supporters via the BHF Facebook page, received responses from 503 people, all of whom had had at least one myocardial infarction.

It found that 50% of people suffering a heart attack delayed seeking medical help for their symptoms for more than an hour and more than 80% initially failed to realise what was happening to them.

More than a third (35%) of the heart attack survivors mistook their symptoms for indigestion and nearly two thirds (59%) still did not realise that they might be having a heart attack at the point at which they finally sought medical help for their symptoms.

Someone suffers a heart attack approximately every three minutes in the UK and research has shown that nearly half of potentially salvageable heart muscle is lost within one hour of the coronary artery being blocked.

The survey showed that only around a quarter (26%) of heart attack survivors surveyed managed to get treatment within this timeframe.

In addition, more than 90% of those surveyed remained conscious throughout the attack and 13% of those collapsed during their heart attack.

The charity said people were underestimating the life-threatening consequences of a heart attack, despite coronary heart disease being the UK’s single biggest cause of death.

Simon Gillespie, BHF chief executive, said: “It’s extremely alarming that the majority of people who suffer heart attacks mistake their symptoms for something less serious and delay getting medical help.

“Every second counts when someone has a heart attack. The sooner people recognise their symptoms and call 999, the better their chance of recovery.

“Research advances mean seven out of ten people now survive a heart attack. But most heart attacks occur without warning and we have no way of predicting when they will strike. We need to accelerate research into improving our understanding of the furring of the arteries that causes heart attacks and develop better ways of preventing them.”

The BHF said it currently funded £29 million of research into finding new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat heart attacks.

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