Heart attack

Causes of a heart attack

Heart attacks are caused by blockages in the coronary arteries.  The coronary arteries supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscle; but when the muscle is starved of oxygen, it dies.

These blockages, which can be caused by blood clots, a build-up of fats on artery walls or coronary thrombosis (narrowing of the coronary artery), restrict the flow of blood to the heart causing that part of the heart muscle to be starved of oxygen and die.

As a result, the patient can go into cardiac arrest - meaning that their heart is no longer pumping blood effectively around the body.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Everyone's heart is different; it is a muscle after all - they're all unique to the individual!
The most common symptoms are:

  • Central chest pain - which can lead to the arms, neck or jaw
  • Feeling sick or sweaty , in addition to central chest pain
  • Feeling short of breath, in addition to central chest pain

Other patients have reported:

  • Dull aches and pains, or a 'heavy feeling' in the chest
  • Discomfort in the chest, making you feel unwell
  • Spreading of pain from chest into the back or stomach
  • A feeling of bad indigestion
  • Light-headed and dizziness, as well as chest pains
  • Not all Heart attack patients have symptoms and sometimes non of these may be present, commonly termed a 'silent heart attack'

The pain or discomfort a person suffering a heart attack feels can last 5 minutes or several hours, and taking tablets, moving around or resting will not stop or ease the pain.  The pain may or may not be constant.  It has also been reported to feel like a pressure, squeezing or 'fullness'.

What to do

If you think that you, or someone you know is suffering from a heart attack you need to call 999 for an ambulance immediately.

Even if you're unsure, please call.  Our ambulance crews would prefer to attend a false alarm than be called too late to help - with heart attacks, every minute sooner a patient receives treatment, the better their chance of survival.

Ambulance crews will use their on-board echocardiogram (ECG) to monitor the heart, and assess whether or not you have had or are experiencing a heart attack.  They can also determine from this machine the severity of the attack; the most common being an ST-elevated  myocardial infarction.

In addition to this, you may also be offered:

  • Aspirin - a blood thinner, to improve blood flow to the heart
  • Glyceryl trinitrate - tongue tablet placed in the mouth, to improve blood flow to the heart by dilating the arteries
  • Wong-Baker faces pain rating  - a picture chart to help define your level of pain
  • Pain relief - to ease pain

You will then be taken to a specialist heart attack centre within the region, not necessarily the closest hospital to you.  This is because specialist treatment is proven to be beneficial to stop damage to the heart muscle occurring.

Heartstart UK

Heartstart UK is a training program co-ordinated by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).  NWAS Community Resuscitation department ,  Community First Responders and trainers support the BHF campaign, by helping to deliver emergency  life-support training courses throughout our local communities.
The courses provide practical, 'hands-on' learning and cover areas such as 'recognising a heart attack', 'symptoms of cardiac arrest', 'accurate execution of the recovery position' and 'dealing with choking and serious bleeding'.
Many of these schemes are open to the general public and are all free.  To find out more, please Click Here.

Relevant Videos

VIDEO: LEARN HOW TO USE DEFIBRILLATOR via the London Ambulance Service Website

How we treat heart attacks (BHF)

BHF 'Ask Vinnie - Hands Only campaign'