Te manawa-hē Heart attack

Anyone can have a heart attack – but it is more likely if you already have angina or other risk factors. Getting immediate treatment for a heart attack can reduce the damage to your heart and may even save your life.

When to get immediate medical advice

Symptoms of a heart attack

Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort, which can feel like pressing, tightness or a heavy sensation in the chest.

Other symptoms could include:

  • discomfort or pain around the arms, jaw, back, shoulders, neck
  • shortness of breath
  • weakness, fainting or dizziness
  • sweating
  • nausea or vomiting.

People with angina have a higher risk of having a heart attack. You may be having a heart attack if you have angina and:

  • the pain is more severe, more frequent or different than usual
  • the pain starts while you are resting or wakes you up from sleep.

If you have angina medication, take 1 puff of your GTN spray. Wait 5 minutes. If symptoms continue, taken another puff and wait 5 minutes. If you still have symptoms, treat it as a heart attack. Call 111 for an ambulance.

Symptoms without chest pain or discomfort

Not everyone having a heart attack gets chest pain. It is less common in women and people with diabetes.

They may only have shoulder, arm, jaw, neck, or back pain.

Some people complain only of shortness of breath, severe weakness, being lightheaded, sweating, or nausea and vomiting.

Causes of a heart attack

Coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis) is the mose common cause of a heart attack. This is when fatty deposits build up inside an artery (blood vessel). The build-up is called atheroma or plaque. If one of the plaques cracks, a blood clot can form, blocking the artery and causing a heart attack.

A less common cause of heart attack is spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a condition where 1 or more of the coronary arteries tears.

Diagnosing a heart attack

If you have the symptoms of a heart attack, call 111.

You will have blood tests to check for certain proteins that show you are having or have had a heart attack.

You may also have a tracing of the electrical activity of your heart known as an ECG (electrocardiogram).

Find out more about different types of heart tests.

Heart Tests — Heart Foundation (external link)

Treating a heart attack

The first treatment of a heart attack is to try to open up the blood vessel that is blocked. This is usually done by a putting a wire into the blood vessel and placing a tube (stent) to keep the blood vessel open. This procedure is known as angioplasty.

Other treatments include giving medicine to dissolve the clot (thrombolysis). In rare situations, you could need immediate heart bypass surgery.

Recovery after a heart attack

After a heart attack, making healthy choices can help your heart recover and reduce your risk of a further heart attack and stroke. Changes you can make include:

  • stopping smoking, if you smoke
  • move more
  • eat and drink for a healthy heart
  • reach a healthy weight
  • manage stress
  • attend cardiac rehab
  • take medicine.

Medicine is vital to your recovery after a heart attack and reduces your risk of future heart events. See the common heart attack medicines and their possible side effects. You will also be offered cardiac rehabilitation, which provides education and support.

Heart attack medication — Heart Foundation (external link)

Find out what you need for your heart attack recovery and advice on living well with heart disease.

After your heart attack — Heart Foundation (external link)

Reducing your risk of further heart attacks

Several things make it more likely that you will have another heart attack, including lifestyle factors. By changing your lifestyle, you can lower your risk of a heart attack.

Lower your risk of heart disease — Heart Foundation (external link)

Heart risk assessments

Doing a heart risk assessment gives an estimate of how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke within the next 5 years. It uses several known risk factors such as your age, ethnicity, family history and other heath conditions. The age you should start having heart risk assessments depends on your sex, ethnicity and other risk factors.

You can do a heart risk assessment with your healthcare provider.

Related websites

Heart Foundation — Heart help

More information about heart attacks, how they are treated and ways to prevent them. Includes video stories from people who have had heart attacks.

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