Half of people suffering a heart attack (50 per cent) may be putting their life and future recovery in danger by delaying seeking medical help for their symptoms for more than an hour, according to a new survey of British Heart Foundation (BHF) supporters.

The survey of heart attack survivors showed that over 80 per cent initially failed to realise that they may be having a heart attack, with more than one in three mistaking their symptoms for indigestion (35 per cent). Worryingly, nearly two thirds (59 per cent) of those polled still didn’t realise that they might be having a heart attack at the point they finally sought medical help for their symptoms.

The heart charity is warning that as a nation we’re underestimating the life-threatening consequences of a heart attack, despite coronary heart disease – the main cause of heart attacks – remaining the UK’s single biggest killer. The BHF is urging people to be more aware of the signs of a heart attack and says far more research is needed to improve ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating heart attacks.

Someone suffers a heart attack approximately every three minutes in the UK, caused when a blood clot forms in a narrowed coronary artery, cutting off the blood supply to the heart muscle. Research has shown that nearly half of potentially salvageable heart muscle is lost within one hour of the coronary artery being blocked.

However, the figures show that only approximately one in four heart attack survivors surveyed (26 per cent) managed to get treatment within this timeframe, meaning that the majority put their lives and future recovery at risk.

Despite the common perception that a heart attack is something that happens quickly with someone clutching their chest and keeling over, the survey results showed that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed remained conscious throughout. Around one in 10 (13 per cent) of those asked collapsed during their heart attack.

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, 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 10 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. Also, minor heart attacks which are often a prelude to a much more serious one, can be difficult to diagnose. We therefore need more effective ways of diagnosing them so people at risk get the lifesaving treatment they need.’