Heart attack sufferer on a mission to get more women talking about heart health

Elaine Harris is on a mission to get women talking about the symptoms of a heart attack
Elaine Harris is on a mission to get women talking about the symptoms of a heart attack

A woman who suffered a heart attack at work and is now living with heart failure is empowering other women to seek support for their own heart health.

Elaine Harris has made the call as the British Heart Foundation (BHF) launches a new briefing, which reveals stark inequalities in awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks are needlessly killing women in the UK.

The BHF hopes the briefing will help to quash any perception that heart attack is a male disease. The nation’s biggest heart charity also hopes it will encourage women to better understand their risk of a heart attack and its symptoms.

Elaine, now 54, who lives in Billinge, had a heart attack in September 2014 while at her job as an employment adviser.

“I was eating lunch and my chips tasted funny. Voices started to get loud then low, and the room started spinning.”

Elaine’s best friend thought it was indigestion. Elaine went to the bathroom where she collapsed on the floor. Her colleagues came to check on her and called an ambulance, but Elaine never considered that it could be a heart attack.

“I had massive jaw pain and a crushing chest sensation and I was writhing on the floor. You see people on TV having a heart attack and they sit there and say they can’t breathe but mine was totally different.”

Elaine’s colleagues called an ambulance who took her to A&E at The Royal Liverpool University Hospital, where a stent was fitted. Elaine went back to work for three months, but kept passing out. She was soon diagnosed with heart failure, caused by the damage done following her heart attack. Elaine has had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) fitted, to treat her irregular heartbeat, and will need a heart transplant one day.

Elaine has set up a Facebook support group, Belles Hearties, for women living with heart conditions, after realising there was no support targeted specifically at women.

“Heart attacks are so different and affect people in so many different ways – some people are able to go back to work, others are on the transplant list. We’re not all the same, and we have different needs and support networks.

“I feel like Belles Hearties is helping to fill the gap for women with heart conditions. We talk about everything, and have an annual meeting. After a heart attack you’re weak and tired and can’t do anything, so talking to someone in the group opens you up to other people.”

In the North West alone, around 4,100 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack each year. The BHF estimates that around 43,000 women in the North West, like Elaine, have survived a heart attack.

To find out more about the campaign visit www.bhf.org.uk/women

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Consultant Cardiologist and Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Heart attacks have never been more treatable. Yet women are dying needlessly because heart attacks are often seen as a man’s disease, and women simply don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men.

"The studies have revealed inequalities at every stage of a woman’s medical journey, and though complex to dissect, they add up to a societal failure to provide fair care for women.

"Together, we must change this by tackling the public perception of women and heart attacks. The assumption that women are not at risk of heart attack is false, and has proven to be deadly."