attack happens when your heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich
blood. This causes damage to your heart
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 immediately.
Don’t delay calling 999
because you are uncertain or don't want to make a fuss. The sooner
you get emergency treatment for a heart attack, the greater your
chances of survival.
What does a heart attack feel like?
The symptoms of a heart attack vary from one person to another.
You may feel tightness, heaviness 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 other people just feel
As well as having chest pain or discomfort you may become
sweaty, feel light-headed or dizzy, or become short of breath. You
may also feel nauseous or vomit.
Should I take an aspirin if I think I am having a heart
first thing to do if you think you're having a heart attack is to
phone 999 immediately for an ambulance.
You should then sit and rest while you wait for the ambulance to
arrive. Do not get up and look around for an aspirin. This may put
unnecessary strain on your heart.
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 one
adult aspirin tablet (300mg). However, if they are not
nearby, the person should stay with you, they
should not go hunting for aspirin.
What is the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac
A cardiac arrest happens when your
heart stops pumping blood around your body. Although a heart attack
can result in a cardiac arrest, they are two different things.
Someone who has had a cardiac arrest
will be unconscious and won’t be breathing normally. If you see
someone having a cardiac arrest, you can increase the person's
chances of survival by phoning 999 and giving them
Why do heart attacks happen?
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
Other rarer causes of a heart attack include
spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) where one or more
of the coronary arteries tear.
How is a heart attack diagnosed?
When the ambulance arrives, the ambulance staff will;
- examine you and monitor your heart rate and blood
- do an electrocardiogram (ECG) in the
- assess your symptoms and medical history,
- give pain relief if needed and oxygen if your oxygen level is
- give you aspirin if not given already,
- transfer you to the most suitable hospital.
How is a heart attack treated?
When you arrive at hospital you will receive treatment for your
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
In some types of heart attack people do not receive either of
these two treatments because they will not benefit from
What happens to my 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
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.
Can I prevent a heart attack?
Living a healthy lifestyle can help
prevent you from developing coronary heart
disease and having a heart attack.
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
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.
Video: Watch you own heart attack
This two minute film lets you experience what it's like to have
a heart attack first hand.
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
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.
How can I find out more?
Researching heart attack, saving lives
Sadly, not everyone survives a heart attack. But
things are changing. Research helps us improve the treatment
and prevention of heart attacks. That's why we fund
scientists, like BHF Professor Steve
Watson, to help us understand more about how we can treat heart