Most heart attacks are caused by coronary
heart disease. This is when your coronary arteries narrow due
to a gradual build-up of atheroma (fatty material) within their
walls. If the atheroma becomes unstable, a piece may break off and
lead to a blood clot forming.
This clot can block the coronary artery,
starving your heart of blood and oxygen and causing damage to
your heart muscle - this is a heart attack. It is also called
acute coronary syndrome,
myocardial infarction or coronary
A heart attack is life
threatening. If you think you or anyone else is
having a heart attack, you should phone 999 for an ambulance
You are more likely to survive a heart
attack if you phone 999 straight away.
What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac
Cardiac arrest is totally different
from a heart attack. A cardiac arrest happens when your
heart stops pumping blood around the body. As a
result you will be unconscious and won’t be breathing normally.
Immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation
(CPR) and defibrillation is needed to have any chance of
Having a heart attack is one of the causes for cardiac arrest.
Other causes include electrocution or choking.
If you witness a cardiac arrest,
you can increase the persons chances of survival
by phoning 999 and giving
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
The symptoms of a heart attack vary from one person to another.
You may feel tightness or pain in your chest. This may spread to
your arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. For some people, the pain or
tightness is severe, while others may feel nothing more than a mild
As well as having chest pain or discomfort you may feel
light-headed or dizzy and short of breath. You may also feel
nauseous or vomit.
Phone 999 immediately if you think you are
having a heart attack or if you suspect someone is having a heart
attack. This means that you will get potentially life-saving
treatment as soon as possible. Do not phone your GP if you
think you or someone else is having a heart attack, you must phone
999 for an ambulance.
The sooner you get emergency treatment, the greater your
chances of survival and the more of your heart muscle can be
Some people delay phoning 999. They may
ignore or be uncertain of the symptoms, not think that a heart
attack can happen to them or not want to make a fuss. This
delay loses valuable time and puts people's lives at
Should I take an aspirin if I think I am having a heart
The first thing to do if you think you're having a
heart attack is to phone 999 immediately for an
You should then sit and rest while you wait for the ambulance to
If you are not allergic to aspirin and have some next to you, or
if there is someone with you who can fetch them for you, chew an
aspirin. However, if they are not nearby, the person with
you should not go hunting for aspirin, they should stay with
Do not get up and wander around the house
looking for an aspirin. This may put unnecessary strain on your
How is a heart attack diagnosed?
The ambulance staff will;
- do an electrocardiogram
(ECG). This should not delay transfer to the most suitable
- give aspirin if not given already
- assess your symptoms and medical history
- give pain relief if needed and oxygen if your
oxygen level is too low
- examine you and monitor your heart rate and
What treatment will I receive for my blocked artery?
- Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PPCI)
which is emergency coronary angioplasty. It
involves reopening the blocked coronary artery and
placing one or more stents in it. This restores blood supply
to the part of your heart that is starved of blood, which helps to
save as much muscle as possible
Thrombolysis, also called a ‘clot buster’. This
involves injecting a medicine into your vein to dissolve the blood
clot and restore the blood supply to your heart. If PPCI
is not readily accessible then this will be given to you in
In some types of heart attacks people do not receive either of
these two treatments because they will not benefit
Can I prevent a heart attack?
Living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent you from having a heart
attack. If you're over 40 you should ask your doctor or nurse
for a heart health check to assess
your risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.
If you have had a heart attack you can dramatically
reduce the risk of having another heart
attack and future heart problems by keeping your heart healthy and taking
How long will I survive? Will my heart get better? Low cholesterol diet, what does that mean? Can you have sex again? Who’s going to give me this information?
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
and future. Many people make a
full recovery and within a few months are able to return to their
Some people may find that they are not able to do as much as
they previously did, but attending a cardiac
rehabilitation course will increase your chances of getting
back to normal as quickly as possible.
Sadly, around one in two people
die from a heart attack
and don't have the chance to
recover. Research helps us improve the prevention of heart attacks.
That's why we fund scientists to help us understand more about the
underlying causes and processes of heart attacks. BHF Professor
and his team, for example,
are studying how blood cells form dangerous clots.
Where can I find more information?
You may find the below helpful:
Have you lost someone because of a heart attack?
If you're dealing with the loss of a loved one from a heart
attack, you may find our bereavement information helpful.
You can also talk to
our bereavement counsellor by calling the
Helpline on 0300 330 3311. The
helpline is open 9am to
5pm, Monday to
Friday (calls charged at a local rate).
Researching heart attacks
Sadly, around half of heart attacks are still
fatal. Research can help us improve the prevention of
heart attacks. That is why we continue to fund scientists to
help us understand more about the underlying causes and processes
of heart attacks. BHF Professor Steve
Watson and his team, for example, are studying how blood
cells form dangerous clots.