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Jean Marsh health: Upstairs, Downstairs star ‘fought’ two life-threatening conditions

What's the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

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As well as the ITV and later BBC series, Marsh has appeared in several films and West End theatre productions, but back in 2011 tragedy struck for the actress, who suffered from a stroke and heart attack, three weeks after the first episode of the revived Upstairs, Downstairs had been filmed. Having created the much-loved original series with friend Dame Eileen Atkins, even after her health took a worrying turn, Marsh was eager to get back to work.

In an interview with the MailOnline back in 2013, Marsh addressed her ill health and her determined spirit she showed during her recovery.

“It’s odd because the day it happened, I said: ‘I’m not ill,’ and I fought,” she explained at the time.

“It was amazing. I had had a stroke and a heart attack but I knew I’d be all right. I think it’s because I’m an actress.

“If you didn’t know me and you sat down and we had a chat, you would have no idea how old I was, or know that I’d been ill, would you?”

Reflecting on the time immediately after her stroke and heart attack, Marsh said that she only spent a mere three weeks in hospital.

She continued to say: “I was absolutely determined [to get back]. Three weeks after the first episode I had a stroke and a heart attack and in three weeks I’d thrown myself out of the hospital.

“I said I will be alright and the main doctor said, ‘All right, you can work again. But you can only work four hours a day’. And I said, ‘Terrific!'”

Speaking about Marsh’s brief absence from the show was writer Heidi Thomas, who recalled the ordeal as an “emotional experience for all”.

She went on to say: “[They] just adore Jean, I remember saying to Anne Reid (Mrs Thackeray), ‘Rose cannot leave because it would be like the ravens leaving the tower, she’s so integral to 165’.”

Both a stroke and a heart attack can prove to be deadly conditions as they both result from a lack of blood flow to critical parts of the body.

A stroke is caused by a blockage in blood flow to the brain while a heart attack is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart.

Three main types of stroke can occur:

  • Ischaemic strokes happen when an artery supplying blood to your brain is blocked by a blood clot.
  • Haemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel ruptures (or bursts), causing a bleed in the brain. This means less blood gets to the surrounding brain cells causing them to die.
  • Mini-strokes, or transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), happen when there’s an interruption in blood flow to part of the brain for a short time causing symptoms, such as temporary speech loss. TIA’s usually resolve after a few seconds or minutes.

Due to the critical nature of a stroke, individuals must recognise the signs and alert medical professionals as soon as possible. The following mnemonic describes the key signs of a stroke:

  • Facial weakness – can they smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
  • Arm weakness – can they raise both arms?
  • Speech problems – can they speak clearly and can they understand what you’re saying?
  • Time – it’s time to call 999 immediately if you see any of these symptoms.

Stroke symptoms are a direct result of brain cells dying off due to a lack of oxygen, and can include any of the following:

  • Unexpected dizziness or loss of balance that makes walking or other physical activities difficult
  • Weakness or numbness in limbs or face — often only on one side of the body
  • A severe headache
  • Unusual blurriness in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding communication.

Differing slightly, a heart attack occurs when blood flow is impeded from reaching the heart. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease – a condition that occurs when plaque builds up in arteries.

Heart attack symptoms can either occur suddenly or build steadily for hours (or even days). The most common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Unexplained pain in arm or shoulders
  • Unexplained pain in back, neck, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting.

A heart attack may also be accompanied by unusual tiredness, nausea, or vomiting; research shows these symptoms might be more common in women than men. Often, these signs are mistaken for other ailments such as chest pain, heartburn, or even a gallbladder attack.

If an individual is having a heart attack but remains conscious, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) recommends they take an aspirin and wait for the emergency services to arrive.

For both of these conditions, prevention is key in minimising your risk. In most cases, both heart attack and stroke risk factors include: chronic and short-term stress, smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Genetics and other hidden factors also play a role in your level of risk.

Therefore, the best ways to reduce your risk of suffering from stroke or heart attack are to make healthy lifestyle choices such as: minimising stress by practising stress-reduction techniques, exercising on a regular basis, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding (or minimising) harmful activities such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

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