More than a third of heart attack survivors (35%) said they mistook the symptoms of an attack for indigestion, it has been revealed.
A new health survey by The British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that over 80% initially failed to realise they were having a heart attack, with more than one in three mistaking their symptoms for indigestion.
Worryingly, nearly two thirds (59%) of those polled still didn’t realise that they might be having a heart attack at the point they finally sought medical help for their symptoms.
BHF warned that people are underestimating the life-threatening consequences of a heart attack and may be putting their life in danger by waiting more than an hour after experiencing symptoms to seek medical help.
It has urged people to be more aware of the signs of a heart attack.
A heart attack is caused when a blood clot forms in a narrowed coronary artery, cutting off the blood supply to the heart muscle.
Someone suffers a heart attack approximately every three minutes in the UK.
Meanwhile, coronary heart disease – the main cause of heart attacks – is the UK’s single biggest killer.
Research suggests that nearly half of potentially salvageable heart muscle is lost within one hour of the coronary artery being blocked.
However, new figures reveal that roughly one in four heart attack survivors (26%) managed to get treatment within this timeframe, meaning that the majority put their lives and future recovery at risk.
Despite the common perception that a heart attack is something that happens quickly with someone clutching their chest and keeling over, the survey results showed that more than 90% remained conscious throughout.
Around one in 10 (13%) of the 500 people surveyed said they collapsed during their heart attack.
Melanie Mully, 43 from Bishop Stortford, had a heart attack when she was just 38, but mistook the symptoms for indigestion.
"It was the week before I was due to get married and my mind was more on place cards and where I was going to put everybody," she recalled.
"The day it happened I was queuing to pay for a present when I started to feel all hot and sweaty. There was a pain in my arm and I had indigestion. I didn’t think anything of it as I’d had bouts throughout my recent pregnancy.
"The pain went on throughout the day, but I didn’t want to go through the hassle of sitting in a waiting room with a baby. Eventually that evening my heart attack led to a cardiac arrest and my heart stopped.
"Thankfully the paramedics arrived quickly and were able to resuscitate me.
She added: "I wasn’t overweight and I had never smoked, it didn’t occur to me that this was something that could happen. Even though I had no idea what was happening at the time, it’s still something that has a huge impact on my life.
"It’s taken a couple of years, a lot of hard work and counselling to get my life back on track."
According to the NHS, symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain – a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest and pain in other parts of the body
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- An overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)
- Coughing or wheezing
Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, 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 10 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.
"Also, minor heart attacks which are often a prelude to a much more serious one, can be difficult to diagnose. We therefore need more effective ways of diagnosing them so people at risk get the life saving treatment they need."