Thousands of lives could be saved if more people were aware they were experiencing the early signs of a heart attack and called 999, the NHS has said.
The health service is launching a TV campaign urging people to dial the emergency services if they are experiencing common symptoms such as sweating, uneasiness and chest tightness.
The NHS spoke to 2,200 people and found only 38% would dial 999 if they or a loved one experienced such symptoms.
Only 41% of people polled knew sweating was a symptom of a heart attack, while only 27% understood that feeling weak, lightheaded or suffering a sense of general unease were also symptoms.
Research also found that three in four people thought a heart attack, when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, was the same as a cardiac arrest, when your heart suddenly stops beating.
From Monday, a TV advert will show a person experiencing some of the common early symptoms and remind people to dial 999 if they think they are having a heart attack.
‘It’s not a case of clutching your chest and falling to the ground’
The campaign is backed by celebrities including One Foot In The Grave actor Richard Wilson and Sky Sports presenter Peter Dale, commonly known as Tubes.
Dale, who suffered a heart attack when he was 36, said: “I had no idea that I was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack at the time.
“On the morning of the attack, I went home after playing football thinking I had indigestion – I just didn’t feel quite right and both of my arms started to feel numb.
“I managed to text my mum who called an ambulance and only when the paramedics arrived did I realise this was a heart attack.
“People need to be aware of the symptoms – it’s not a case of clutching your chest and falling to the ground. Early signs aren’t always severe but if you experience any symptoms, call 999. Acting quickly saved my life.”
Wilson said: “I’ve battled with my heart health for a while, and since experiencing a heart attack I’ve really opened my eyes to the impact it’s had on my life.
“I got more tired, I’m able to walk around less and my memory has suffered as well. The scariest part is that at the time I did not know enough about heart attacks or heart health.
“I’d advise everyone, especially those aged 50 and over, to look up the symptoms of a heart attack and if you suspect you have any of these to call 999 immediately.”
What are the survival rates for a heart attack?
More than 80,000 hospital admissions are for a heart attack each year in England, with a survival rate of seven people in 10, rising to nine in 10 for those who have early hospital treatment.
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Sadly, cardiovascular disease causes a quarter of all deaths across the country and we have identified this as the single biggest area where we can save lives over the next decade.
“This new NHS campaign will be a vital tool in that lifesaving mission – helping people to recognise when they or someone around them is experiencing a heart attack and when to seek early medical help cannot be underestimated.
“It can be easy to dismiss early symptoms as they don’t always feel severe, but it is never too early to dial 999 in this circumstance – and the faster you act, the better the chance of a full recovery.”
Professor Nick Linker, consultant cardiologist and NHS national clinical director for heart disease, said: “Often people don’t realise they’re having a heart attack, either because they don’t recognise the early signs, or because they don’t consider them severe enough to trouble the NHS.
“But make no mistake, a heart attack is a medical emergency, and it’s never too early to call 999 and describe your symptoms.”