How to tell if you're having a heart attack
Every 5 minutes, somebody has a heart attack in the UK. A heart attack is very serious, and it can be fatal if you don’t get treated straight away. If you ever think you are having a heart attack, you must seek emergency medical assistance.
Although the main symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, you may not be aware of the other key symptoms to look out for. In this guide we’ll discuss what a heart attack is, the symptoms that can follow, and what steps to take if you think you are having a heart attack. Understanding the symptoms can save a life.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack, otherwise known by its medical term myocardial infarction or MI, is when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked, typically by a blood clot.
A heart attack and a cardiac arrest are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. A heart attack is a medical emergency, whereas a cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating. If untreated, a heart attack can result in a cardiac arrest.
Certain people are more likely to have a heart attack than others, and it can depend on your lifestyle, your age, gender and some hereditary conditions.
Heart attacks are more common in men than women, and your risk of a heart attack increases with age. Lifestyle factors such as smoking and being overweight can contribute, in addition to having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
It’s important to note that while the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, women are more likely to experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling or being sick, and back or jaw pain. The symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain. This may feel like a pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest. This pain is usually severe, but some people may only experience minor pain, similar to the feeling of indigestion.
- Pain in other areas of your body. This may feel like the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms, jaw, neck, back and stomach.
- Feeling lightheaded and dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling or being sick
- Anxiety, similar to a panic attack
- Coughing or wheezing
What to do if you think you’re having a heart attack
If you think you’re having a heart attack, you must call 999 and ask for an ambulance. The quicker you act, the better your chances of survival.
While you wait for an ambulance, you should rest to avoid putting any strain on your heart. If you have aspirin on hand and you aren’t allergic to it, slowly chew and swallow; this should be an adult-size tablet (300mg).
Taking aspirin when you’re having a heart attack helps to thin your blood and improve the blood flow to your heart.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you, or someone you know may be having a heart attack, you must act quickly. If you are at a higher risk of having a heart attack, for example you have high cholesterol or you’re overweight, it’s essential that you take steps to live healthier to reduce your likelihood of having a heart attack.
Recognising the key symptoms of a heart attack and following the advice in this guide while you wait for an ambulance can drastically improve your survival rate. If you need any more information about heart attacks, visit the NHS website.