Research carried out by the British Heart Foundation has suggested that only a fifth of people who have a heart attack recognise it as such.
The charity surveyed 500 heart attack survivors, and found that more than a third dismissed it as indigestion, and that half wait more than an hour before seeking medical attention, risking their life and their prospect of recovery.
Coronary heart disease, which is the main cause of heart attacks, is the UK’s single biggest killer. Heart attacks occur when blood clots in a major artery, preventing blood from reaching the heart. The British Heart Foundation says that in Britain we ‘underestimate the life-threatening consequences of a heart attack’.
Symptoms include light-headedness, chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath and the sensation of pain ‘travelling’ between your heart and other areas of the body.
Simon Gillespie, the foundation’s 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 British Heart Foundation is currently researching ways in which heart attacks could be detected more quickly.
Professor Mike Marber is studying a protein — called cardiac myosin binding protein C or MyC — which leaks from the heart after it has been damaged. The team is now investigating whether measuring MyC is a quicker and more effective way of diagnosing a heart attack than current tests.
Marber said: ‘It is essential to know whether someone with chest pain has suffered damage to their heart. Our research could lead to a better blood test for heart attack so people can receive the right treatment, more quickly, improving their chances of recovery.’