The NHS is today launching a new lifesaving campaign to encourage people to dial 999 when they are having early signs of a heart attack.

Backed by celebrities including One Foot in the Grave actor Richard Wilson and Sky Sports presenter ‘Tubes’ – the campaign will tackle a number of common heart attack myths, after research identified that three in four people thought a heart attack was the same as a cardiac arrest.

The new polling also showed that fewer than half of people said they would dial 999 if they or a loved one experienced lesser known symptoms of heart attacks.

From Monday, a new NHS advert will show a person experiencing some of the common early symptoms of a heart attack – sweating, uneasiness and chest tightness – and reminds viewers to dial 999 if they experience the symptoms of a heart attack.

The campaign, which will run from 14 February to 31 March 2022, is the first of the NHS ‘Help Us Help You’ campaigns specific to heart attacks.

Speaking of the launch, England’s top doctor said thousands of deaths could be prevented with earlier treatment if people recognise these vital signs.

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.”

There are more than 80,000 hospital heart attack admissions in England every year. The overall survival rate for people experiencing a heart attack is seven in 10 and this increases to nine in 10 for those who come forward for early hospital treatment.

New NHS research also shows that whilst 70% of those surveyed understood that pain in the chest is a symptom of a heart attack, just 41% knew sweating was a symptom and only 27% understood feeling weak, lightheaded or a feeling of general unease were also symptoms.

Richard Wilson, actor and director, 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+ to look up the symptoms of a heart attack and if you suspect you have any of these to call 999 immediately.”

Peter Dale (Tubes), presenter on Sky Sports’ Soccer AM who experienced a heart attack at 36, explains how his symptoms didn’t seem serious to him at first:

“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.”

The new NHS campaign will also highlight to the public the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.

A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the heart becomes blocked, which can starve it of oxygen potentially causing serious muscle damage. Whilst the early signs of a heart attack can vary, the most common include squeezing across the chest, sweating and a sense that something just isn’t right. The person will be conscious and breathing.

A cardiac arrest is different – it usually occurs suddenly and without warning with the person quickly losing consciousness. Their heart stops, they will have no pulse and sadly people experiencing a cardiac arrest will usually die within minutes if they do not receive treatment. A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest.

Professor Nick Linker, consultant cardiologist and NHS national clinical director for heart disease, said: “These survey findings present what is a familiar picture to NHS cardiology colleagues.

“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.”

Shushila Naran Hirani, a 63-year-old retired shopkeeper from East London who has had a heart attack describes her experience: “I had some chest pain in the night but I ignored it and went to sleep. The next morning I had the same pain in my left arm.

“I did not realise I was having a heart attack, I thought the pain was linked to some heavy lifting I had been doing earlier that day.

“My advice to others with symptoms of a heart attack would be to call 999 straight away.”

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Every minute counts when you’re having a heart attack – it’s a medical emergency, and immediate treatment could be the difference between life and death.

“It can be easy to dismiss early symptoms of a suspected heart attack, but don’t think twice about dialling 999. The NHS and our emergency services are there for everyone, and one quick call could save your life.”