27 May 2020
A heart attack is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life threatening. If you suspect you, a family member or friend is having a heart attack call 999 immediately.
Recent research revealed that nearly half of the public have concerns about seeking help from the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the latest figures from Public Health England suggest that A&E attendances for cardiac and coronary conditions have recovered to normal levels, after significantly falling in late March and early April.
This is encouraging news and we want people who need urgent and emergency medical care to continue using the NHS as normal, when they need it. The NHS is working hard to manage Covid19, but we’re also working hard to ensure patients can safely access essential services to treat heart attacks and heart conditions, and help people recover, whenever they are needed.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- Chest pain – the chest can feel like it’s being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick, sweaty, weak or lightheaded
- An overwhelming feeling of anxiety
- Excessive coughing or wheezing
It’s important to know that not everyone experiences severe chest pain. This is particularly the case with many women. Sometimes the pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion.
It’s the combination of symptoms that’s important in determining whether a person is having a heart attack and not the severity of chest pain. If you experience any of the symptoms above dial 999 immediately.
Dr Richard Blakey, Sussex GP and Director of The Community Cardiology Service said:
“Following the government’s advice to stay safe is essential and will save lives, but it’s equally important that people understand that they can and should seek medical advice for all heart-related symptoms, not just if they think they are having a heart attack. Heart conditions don’t become any less of a risk because we are in the middle of a pandemic and ignoring symptoms now could lead to serious long-term health problems.
“People may feel that their symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath and feeling faint are related to understandable anxiety caused by the pandemic, but these symptoms may also indicate something more serious that should be discussed with a specialist and investigated where necessary.
“While you might think you are doing the right thing by not bothering the doctor and easing pressure on the NHS, it is better for us to hear about symptoms now rather than later, particularly if you have an existing heart condition.”
Dr Matt Jackson, Sussex GP and Director of The Community Cardiology Service, said:
“We welcome the drive to encourage people to seek prompt medical advice and would like to reiterate that most NHS services are up and running, albeit slightly differently. For example, at the Community Cardiology Service, we are now treating most of our patients in their own homes via telephone and video consultations. We can usually get a good indication of a patient’s state of health by discussing their symptoms in depth, talking through their medical history and taking details of any medication they may be on. If necessary, we can make home visits to fit heart monitors so that patients do not have to travel to a clinic. These are all done with appropriate safety measures and mean that there is no delay to our patients getting a full diagnosis and treatment for their condition.
“If you are experiencing symptoms that could be a heart attack then you must call 999 immediately. For less severe symptoms, get in touch with your GP surgery as soon as possible, either by telephone or via their website. It’s likely you will be given a telephone or video appointment and only asked to come in if absolutely necessary. All GP practices have protocols in place to protect patients so you will be able to visit the surgery safely. But please do not go there unless you have been given an appointment.”
Consultant cardiologist, Dr Nick Pegge, from Western Sussex Hospitals, said:
“We know that there was an initial drop in people presenting with heart attacks and other heart emergencies soon after lockdown but the picture is thankfully changing. However, we think that we are now seeing an increase in some people who are sadly coming to hospital later than would be ideal, indeed late enough that they have developed avoidable complications – things we could have normally prevented with timely treatment.
“We never want to worry people unduly or scare monger; but cardiac symptoms can sometimes develop quickly. People who blackout with no warning, especially if they injure themselves, may need a cardiac pacemaker, a straightforward intervention that can be a life saver. A new central chest discomfort, usually a pressure or heaviness, coming on at rest and which persists can be a symptom of a heart attack, and treatment for the highest risk heart attack has to be given within hours to be most effective.
“We understand that some people are concerned about coming to hospital but I can assure you that we can and are delivering the services patients need safely right now. So don’t delay; we would much rather prevent complications by timely intervention or treatment. That’s better for the patient and for the whole health system.”
Don’t forget the NHS is still here for you when you need it. You can still:
- Contact your GP practice either by phone or online via the NHS app
- Contact NHS111 online or by phone if you need urgent medical help and advice
- Contact 999 or go to A&E if it’s serious or life-threatening
- Attend regular vaccination appointments – to prevent outbreaks of deadly serious diseases
- Attend your screening appointments when invited.
If you or a member of your family is showing signs of Covid-19, please call NHS111 first to get advice.
If you have any stories about how you have continued using the NHS during this pandemic we would love to hear from you. Please email email@example.com.