We are hearing that fewer people are being seen in hospital with heart attacks, strokes and heart failure in recent weeks, which suggests that people are not seeking help when they should do. If you have any of the symptoms described below, you should call 999.
Stroke strikes every five minutes in the UK. It can happen to anyone, of any age, at any time.
It is more common if you have poorly controlled high blood pressure, diabetes or if you have an irregular heart rhythm disorder called Atrial Fibrillation.
It is vital to know how to spot the warning signs of a stroke in yourself or someone else.
Using the FAST test is the best way to do this.
Signs of stroke – FAST test
- Face: Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?
- Arms: Arm weakness. Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?
- Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?
- Time: If you see any of these three signs, it’s time to call 999.
There is no way of knowing if symptoms will pass or get better when they first start, so you need to seek immediate medical help.
A stroke is a medical emergency. Always dial 999. The quicker the person arrives at a specialist stroke unit, the quicker they will receive appropriate treatment
The FAST test helps to spot the three most common symptoms of stroke. But there are other signs that you should always take seriously. These include:
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, including legs, hands or feet.
- Difficulty finding words or speaking in clear sentences.
- Sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes.
- Sudden memory loss or confusion, and dizziness or a sudden fall.
- A sudden, severe headache.
If you spot any of these signs of a stroke, don’t wait. Call 999 straight away.
Ambulance paramedics are trained in stroke, and will take the person to the best hospital for specialist treatment.
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. They can include:
- Pain or discomfort in your chest that happens suddenly and doesn’t go away.
- Pain that spreads to your left or right arm, or to your neck, jaw, back or stomach. For some people the pain or tightness is severe, while for others it’s uncomfortable
- Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
It’s possible to have a heart attack without experiencing all these symptoms, and it’s important to remember everyone experiences pain differently.
This is common in the elderly or people with diabetes, as the condition can cause nerve damage which affects how you feel pain.
What should I do if I think I’m having a heart attack?
It’s important you get medical attention immediately. Don’t worry about wasting paramedics’ time – a heart attack is a medical emergency.
- Call 999 for an ambulance
- Sit down and stay calm
- Take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within reach
- Wait for the paramedics.
Heart failure is a condition where the heart does not pump blood around the body in sufficient quantities or strength to nourish the body tissues.
It is commoner as you get older, if you have had a heart attack that damages heart muscle (one of the reasons why you should seek help urgently), if you have poorly controlled diabetes, high blood pressure, smoke, drink too
much alcohol or have an irregular heart rhythm called Atrial Fibrillation.
Patients can present with increasing swelling of feet, ankles or lower legs, shortness of breath on walking, climbing stairs and sometimes lying flat in bed and some wake up suddenly from sleep struggling to breathe and coughing up frothy sputum.
If you are getting any of these symptoms please contact your GP for assessment and tests, most of which can be done at the GP surgery.
Do not delay because of the fear of coronavirus because if diagnosed and treated early this can improve your symptoms, stop it getting worse and keep you out of
Should I still call 999 or go to hospital if I’m worried about my health?
Whether or not you have coronavirus symptoms, it’s essential to dial 999 if you have symptoms that could be a heart attack or a stroke, or if your heart symptoms get worse.
Don’t delay because you think hospitals are too busy – the NHS still has systems in place to treat people for heart attacks and strokes. You will be kept apart from patients suffering from suspected or confirmed coronavirus, making it very unlikely you will become infected.
If you delay, you are more likely to suffer serious heart damage and more likely to need intensive care and to spend longer in hospital.
Professor Ahmet Fuat, is GP Specialist in Cardiology, Darlington Memorial Hospital.