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Did you know that a heart attack is seriously life threatening? A heart attack happens when your heart is starved of oxygen-rich blood – this causes damage to your heart muscle.

What are the signs of a heart attack?

  • Chest pain – tightness, heaviness, pain or a burning feeling in your chest region
  • Pain in arms, neck, jaws, back ort stomach – for some people, the pain or tightness is severe, while for others, they just feel uncomfortable
  • Sweating
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Short of breath
  • Nauseous or vomiting

What causes a heart attack?

Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.

If a piece of this fatty material (atheroma) breaks off it may cause a blood clot (blockage) to form. If it blocks your coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, this is a heart attack.

You might also hear a heart attack called acute coronary syndrome, myocardial infarction (MI) or coronary thrombosis.

Other rarer causes of a heart attack include spontaneous coronary artery dissection(SCAD) where one or more of the coronary arteries tear.

What happens to the heart after a heart attack?

A heart attack always causes some permanent damage to your heart muscle, but the sooner treatment is given, the more muscle it is possible to save.

If a heart attack damages a significant amount of your heart muscle, this can affect the pumping action of your heart. The term used to describe this is heart failure.

Also, some people continue to get angina after they have had treatment for their heart attack, because there is still narrowing of one or more of their coronary arteries.

How do you diagnose a heart attack? (On the way to a hospital and in an ambulance)

  • n examination and monitoring of the heart rate and blood pressure
  • Perform an electrocardiogram (ECG) in the ambulance
  • Assessment of symptoms and medical history,
  • Provision of pain relief if needed and oxygen if the oxygen level is too low
  • Provision of aspirin if not given already
  • Transfer to the most suitable hospital.

What happens at the hospital?

  • When you arrive at hospital you will receive treatment for your blocked artery.
  • Either you will have a Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PPCI) which is an emergency coronary angioplasty. It involves reopening your blocked coronary artery, restoring the blood supply to the part of your heart that is starved of blood, which helps to save as much of your heart muscle as possible.
  • Or you will have Thrombolysis, also called a ‘clot buster’. This involves injecting a medicine into a vein to dissolve the blood clot and restore the blood supply to your heart. Sometimes this may be given to you in the ambulance.
  • In some types of heart attack people do not receive either of these two treatments because they will not benefit from them.

What about recovery?

A heart attack can be a frightening experience and it can take time to come to terms with what has happened. It’s natural to be worried about your recovery and future.

Many people make a full recovery and within a few months are able to return to their normal activities.

However some people may find that they are not able to do as much as they previously did. Attending a cardiac rehabilitation course will increase your chances of getting back to normal as quickly as possible.

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