Heart Attacks – Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

A heart attack is a serious medical emergency where the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life threatening, so you should call 999, and ask for an ambulance if you suspect a heart attack.

Symptoms

  • Chest Pain: the chest can feel like it’s being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling weak or lightheaded, or both
  • An overwhelming feeling of anxiety

It’s important to know that not everyone experiences severe chest pain. This is particularly the case with many women. The pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion.  It’s the combination of symptoms that’s important in determining whether a person is having a heart attack and not the severity of chest pain.

Treatment

While waiting for an ambulance, it may help to chew and then swallow a tablet of aspirin (ideally 300mg), as long as the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin. Aspirin helps to thin the blood and improves blood flow to the heart.

In hospital, treatment for a heart attack depends on how serious it is.

The 2 main treatments are:

  • using medicines to dissolve blood clots
  • surgery to help restore blood to the heart

Causes

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of heart attacks.  This is a condition in which the major blood vessels that supply the heart get clogged with deposits of cholesterol, known as plaques. Before a heart attack, one of the plaques bursts (ruptures), causing a blood clot to develop at the site of the rupture.  The clot may block the supply of blood to the heart, triggering a heart attack.

Recovery

The time it takes to recover from a heart attack will depend on the amount of damage to your heart muscle. For some the recovery could be a couple of weeks, for others it could take months to fully recover. How quickly you can go back to your normal routine depends on your health, the state of your heart and the type of work you do and lifestyle you have.

The recovery process aims to:

  • reduce your risk of another heart attack through a combination of lifestyle changes (such as eating a healthy diet), and medicines (such as statins), which help to lower blood cholesterol levels
  • gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities 

Prevention

There are 5 main steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a heart attack (or having another heart attack):

  • Quit smoking
  • Keep to a healthy weight
  • Take part in regular exercise – adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate aerobic activity each week, unless advised otherwise by the doctor in charge of your care
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fibre diet, including wholegrains and at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Moderate your alcohol consumption

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Heat Exhaustion & Heatstroke

Heat exhaustion is not usually a serious issue, as long as you can cool down within 30 minutes. However, if it turns into heatstroke, then it needs to be treated as an emergency.

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