A COUNTY Durham mother who had a sudden heart attack at the age of 45 is urging other women to be aware of the symptoms and act now to protect their heart health.

Louise McGill 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.

In August 2017 Louise, of Waterhouses, near Durham, returned from a family day out with her husband and ten-year-old twin daughters and began experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

She said: “The first sign that something wasn’t right was when I had a glass of wine and it tasted really funny. My husband tried some too and said it was fine, so I didn’t think much of it.

“That night, I woke up just after midnight with excruciating pain and pressure in my chest. At first I thought it might be indigestion but I quickly realised that something wasn’t right and my husband called an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived they said they thought I was having a heart attack. I looked at my husband and just started sobbing. I guess I was in shock and my first thought was that I was going to die.”

Louise was taken to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle where she had a stent fitted into her left coronary artery.

She added: “As soon as the stent was put in place I immediately began to feel better. I couldn’t believe it was that quick. The surgeon said there is a second blockage in my other artery, but it’s not big enough to need a stent.”

She is now urging other women to prioritise their heart health from a young age, as she feels that many women think that a heart attack won’t happen to them.

Louise said: “Looking back at the week before I was really tired and working long hours and juggling life with the kids. Two nights after I got back from work I literally fell asleep on the sofa, which was really unusual for me. I thought I’d just hit a wall because of being a busy working mum – which I realise now is a typical female response.“Women I meet at work and socialising don’t always know the warning signs of a heart attack. I had extreme tiredness before mine, but thought it was just because I was busy. I am more conscious of how I eat and what I eat now. I try not to take on too much anymore and don’t work as long hours."

In the North East alone, around 1,600 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack each year. The BHF estimates that around 17,000 women in the North East, like Louise, have survived a heart attack.

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 detailed in this briefing 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.

“The first steps to closing this gender gap include 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."