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How to spot a heart attack – here are the symptoms you should look out for

How to spot a heart attack – here are the symptoms you should look out for

Sep 28, 2023

According to figures from the British Heart Foundation, on average 260 people are admitted to hospitals in the UK each day after experiencing a heart attack.

And, according to a recent report in the Independent, that figure is rising. The number of people admitted to hospital with heart attacks has surged since the pandemic.

New data for England shows that more than 84,000 individuals were admitted to hospital because of a heart attack in 2021/22, an increase of more than 7,000 in just one year.

This follows a warning that deaths from heart conditions have risen by more than 500 a week since the first lockdown in 2020 after a fall in the number of people prescribed vital medication.

Heart charities have warned that “extreme disruption to the NHS” in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, including record ambulance delays, may have worsened death rates. It may also have increased the number of patients suffering heart attacks that might have been avoided with the right help more quickly.

Early access to medical care can significantly increase your chances of surviving a heart attack. Indeed, for those who seek care earlier, around 7 in 10 survive a heart attack, increasing to more than 9 in 10 for those who reach hospital early to receive treatment.

Read on to discover the symptoms to look out for, and two ways you can ensure your loved ones are protected if you do have a heart attack.

Here are the symptoms to look out for

Professor Nick Linker, a cardiologist and NHS national clinical director for heart disease, said: “Cardiovascular disease causes 1 in 4 deaths across the country, so it is vital that people are aware of the early signs of a heart attack.

“Every moment that passes during a heart attack increases heart muscle damage, and nearly all of the damage takes place within the first few hours, so if you experience symptoms such as a sensation of squeezing or tightness across the chest alongside sweating, nausea, or a sense of unease, please call 999 so you have the best chance of a full recovery.”

The NHS outlines the main symptoms of a heart attack, which can include:

  • Chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Pain in other parts of the body – it can sometimes 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 stomach
  • Sweating
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • A shortness of breath
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • An overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack).

While the pain in your chest can often be severe, sometimes you may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion.

The chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, Dr Charmaine Griffiths said: “Even if the symptoms don’t seem severe, call 999 immediately. A heart attack is a medical emergency, and immediate action could save your life.”

If you’re experiencing a heart attack

If you have had a heart attack, it’s really important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance. Doing this avoids putting unnecessary strain on your heart.

If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance.

Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.

How to deal with a sudden cardiac arrest

In some heart attack cases, a complication called “ventricular arrhythmia” can cause the heart to stop beating. This is known as sudden cardiac arrest.

Here’s what to look out for that suggests a person has gone into cardiac arrest:

  • They are not moving
  • They are unresponsive and don’t react when you touch them or speak to them
  • They seem not to be breathing.

If you think somebody has gone into cardiac arrest, call 999 immediately and start doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

  • Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the centre of the person’s chest
  • Place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlock your fingers
  • Using your body weight (not just your arms), press straight down by 5 to 6 cm on their chest
  • Repeat this until an ambulance arrives.

If there is someone with you, ask them to find an automated external defibrillator (AED) and use it as soon as you can. An AED is a safe, portable electrical device that most large organisations keep as part of first aid equipment.

It can help to establish a regular heartbeat during a cardiac arrest by monitoring the person’s heartbeat and giving them an electric shock if necessary.

2 simple ways to protect your family if you do have a heart attack

  • Critical Illness cover

As you read above, acting quickly can significantly increase your chances of surviving a heart attack. More than two-thirds of people who seek care early survive, increasing to 9 in 10 of those who receive timely medical care.

If you do have a heart attack, it’s likely that you will have to take an extended period off work in order to recover and recuperate. In some cases, you may have to give up work entirely, depending on the nature of your work.

If this happens, you may well have to continue paying your mortgage/rent and other regular commitments on a lower income.

If you’d find it difficult to maintain your lifestyle while you recover, or you need to adapt your home, you should consider taking out some appropriate protection.

Critical Illness cover provides a tax-free lump sum if you experience a serious heart attack, or other medical conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or a stroke.

The lump sum can help you to repay debts, replace your income, meet costs such as hospital travel or overnight stays, or pay for essential home upgrades.

  • Life insurance

The British Heart Foundation say that, on average, 460 people in the UK die from a heart or circulatory disease each day.

Furthermore, government data recorded almost 100,000 extra deaths among those with heart disease between spring 2020 and spring 2023.

If you have a spouse or partner, you have children, or you have a mortgage or other debts, then you need to consider how your loved ones could maintain their lifestyle if you were no longer around.

Could they continue to pay their bills without your income? Would their costs increase – for example, for childcare? And could they meet essential costs such as your funeral or other expenses?

If not, life insurance can provide the peace of mind that your family will receive financial support if you were to die prematurely – for example, through a heart attack.

Cover starts from just £6 a month and can be tailored to your specific needs.

Get in touch

As protection experts, we can help you to find the most appropriate and cost-effective cover for your needs.

If you’re looking for life insurance, Critical Illness cover, or both, we will search the market for you to find the best terms for the protection you need. We can also guide you through the underwriting process.

Low-cost protection can give you real peace of mind that you and those close to you would be financially secure if you were to have a heart attack. So, get a life insurance quote today, get a quick Critical Illness quote, or get in touch with one of our experts to find out more.


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