Health Tips

People having a Heart Attack Delay Seeking Help


12th April 2016 - A new survey shows that half of people experiencing heart attack symptoms are risking their life and future recovery by waiting for more than an hour before seeking medical help.

The British Heart Foundation surveyed the readers of their magazine Heart Matters and combined the results with those from a survey on an online social media site. The people who responded to the surveys had survived at least one heart attack. The results show:

  • 80% of heart attack survivors initially did not realise they were having a heart attack
  • 35% thought their symptoms were indigestion
  • 50% delayed seeking medical help for their symptoms for more than 1 hour
  • 59% still didn't realise they were having a heart attack at the time they finally sought medical help for their symptoms.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), says:

"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."

He continues, "Most heart attacks occur without warning and we have no way of predicting when they will strike."

Getting help, fast

Every 3 minutes, someone in the UK experiences a heart attack. It occurs when a blood clot forms in a narrowed artery, which cuts off the blood supply to a part of the heart. The heart muscle becomes damaged if it is starved of oxygen-rich blood.

Research shows that nearly half of the heart muscle that could possibly be saved by treatment is lost within an hour of the artery being blocked, which is why it is important to seek help as soon as someone recognises they are having the symptoms of heart attack. However, the survey shows that only 26% of heart attack survivors managed to get treatment within an hour.

Melanie Mully, a 43 year old from Bishop Stortford, had a heart attack when she was 38 years old, a week before she was due to get married. She had never smoked and wasn't overweight, so it didn't occur to her that she could be having a heart attack. She says:

"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 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."
The heart attack has had a big impact on Melanie's life. She says, "It's taken a couple of years, a lot of hard work and counselling to get my life back on track."