Whatever your age or weight, getting to know the symptoms could save your life or the life of a loved one

At 47, I never thought I would be sharing the news that I had a heart attack. But that is what happened in August last year. I don’t often reveal personal details, but I felt it was important to share my personal story to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease.

I recognise my experience is not unique, however I am very lucky to have made a swift and full recovery within a matter of weeks. Since sharing my experience, I have been fortunate to speak to others who have survived heart attacks and heard many stories praising NHS staff, from ambulance crews to surgeons. However, I am also aware of the challenges we face too. As reported by the British Heart Foundation, the rate of premature deaths from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke has increased in England over recent years. In 2022, this amounted to more than 39,000 people in England – an average of 750 people each week.

During World Heart Month, I held a debate with the support of the British Heart Foundation to highlight this worrying increase and to raise awareness of the need to protect our hearts. I highlighted the potential causes of this trend, but also the wealth of information and resources to support prevention and healthy living in recovery.

However, as a campaigner on mental health it would be remiss of me not to also raise the psychological impact of experiencing such a life-changing moment. The realisation that you may lose your life and be forced to face one’s own mortality can have a longer lasting effect mentally than physically. Survivors of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular conditions can also experience a range of neurological, cognitive, emotional, and social issues with some often struggling with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

A heart attack can make one question everything. In my case, for the days immediately after, I can’t deny asking if I ever would be ‘me’ again? I remember vividly the first event I attended just two weeks after suffering a heart attack, feeling the pressure of not wanting to let anyone down. Thankfully the decision was the best I could have made as it meant I faced any fears head on and overcame them by doing one of the things I enjoy most, speaking to constituents. It’s not always the case and it is not uncommon to hear the words ‘I survived but the shock of what happened remains with me every day.’ Personally, I will forever be grateful to the NHS for providing excellent care in my time of need, however many do not know where to turn for help if they struggle mentally or socially following the experience.

Thankfully, surviving a heart attack can lead to a full recovery. In fact, there are an estimated 1.4 million people alive in the UK today who have survived a heart attack – around one million men and 380,000 women. Behind each statistic is a family who went through the shock and fear of potentially losing a loved one so suddenly but also the reminder that recovery is possible.

I support the brilliant work by our valued NHS in delivering life-saving care, and prioritisation of cardiovascular disease within the Major Conditions Strategy. There are many things we can do ourselves too. Spotting the symptoms is a must-do task for us all and I know personally that being aware of the early-warning signs has meant my recovery has been successful so far – especially thanks to the swift actions of the East of England Ambulance Service, Watford General Hospital, Harefield Hospital and the outpatient care of the NHS cardiac rehabilitation team. I also recently visited the Watford St John Ambulance Service and saw how easy it can be in just a matter of minutes to learn CPR which has the potential to save a life.

Whatever your age or weight, getting to know the symptoms could save your life or the life of a loved one. Combined this with further investment in cardiac services and the research led by organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, one day we could ensure no-one has to lose their life prematurely due to cardiovascular disease.

Dean Russell MP

Dean Russell is the Conservative MP for Watford, and was elected in 2019