There are around 7 million people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK: 3.5 million men and 3.5 million women. Read this heartfelt interview with Elizabeth Southern, as she describes the signs and symptoms she first had which resulted in a quadruple heart bypass. 10 years on, Elizabeth now leads a heart-healthy lifestyle and grabs hold of each day with both hands!
1. Describe the symptoms that you first experienced?
My first symptom was a dull pain in the centre of my chest. It was not a bad pain but it was there now and again. It then became more frequent along with a tingling sensation across the top of my chest, then I started to become a bit short of breath.
2. How old were you when you had your first symptoms?
I was aged 55 when I first started to notice any symptoms. I thought I was too young to be having any kind of symptoms.
3. What made you decide to get medical attention?
It was the fact that I was getting the symptoms more regularly and the shortness of breath was concerning me.
4. When did you realise that your symptoms may be to do with your heart?
When I couldn’t walk up a slope without stopping to try and take a breath. I remember an occasion at work when I was trying to climb the stairs and two colleagues at the top were shouting at me not to be lazy and to get a move on! But I was really finding it tough to get to the top of the stairs.
5. Once you decided to visit a health care professional, what kind of tests did you have?
My first port of call was to my GP, who put me on various medications for about a year and nothing was found. So eventually I was referred to the hospital where I received ECG test and blood tests.
6. What were the results from your visit - did you need surgery?
On one appointment with my cardiologist he said to me, “I don’t think you have a heart condition, I think you have a hiatus hernia”. Those words still ring in my ears! He referred me to get more tests while I was there that day, one being a stress test. He gave me the option to take it now or go away as it was left entirely up to me.
I decided that since I was there I would just take the test. After I took it I was told to go straight back to the cardiologist and to take my husband with me. They had found something and I was then sent to have an angiograph done. I’m so relieved that I took the test that day… the angiogram showed narrowing in three coronary arteries and this resulted in me having to have a quadruple bypass. I was only 57 years old.
7. Since surgery, have you made any lifestyle changes to improve your health?
I had to make significant changes to my lifestyle. I was supporting my husband and father and I couldn’t afford to be ill or not be there for them, so after the surgery I became more heart-healthy and started doing some very light exercise, which has assisted in me losing over 7 stone in weight. I would never have dreamed that before the surgery I would be getting up at 6am every morning to go swimming, yet here I am.
8. What advice would you give to others about recognising the symptoms of heart disease?
My advice to women and men over recognising symptoms of heart disease is to talk to your GP or the British Heart Foundation. They are a mine of knowledge and can help.
Don’t be afraid, make people understand how you are feeling and express it in your own words. We all have different symptoms, some are severe and some are mild. I remember saying to a doctor that it feels like something is messing about with the electrics in my heart; to me that was the best way I could describe what was going on inside my body.
9. Is there anything you would like to share?
I would like to say that I had the most wonderful care and attention from the Liverpool Heart and Lung Hospital and Aintree University Hospital. We have a fantastic NHS and long may it continue.
It’s been 10 years since my bypass and fingers crossed I’m still okay, thanks to the changes in my lifestyle, the continued support from all medical staff and the knowledge I have gained over the years. BHF send out a free magazine and this really is useful.