A heart attack is a serious medical emergency where the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. Lack of blood to the heart can seriously damage the heart muscle. Dial triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if you suspect that you, or someone you know, is having a heart attack.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- chest pain: the chest can feel like it is being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back
- shortness of breath
- feeling weak and/or lightheaded
- an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.
If you have any of the symptoms above, you could be having a heart attack.
If your symptoms are severe, get worse quickly or last longer than 10 minutes call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile try calling 112.
Early treatment could save your life.
It is important to stress that not everyone experiences severe chest pain. The pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion.
The time it takes to recover from a heart attack will depend on the amount of damage to the heart muscle. Some people are well enough to return to work after two weeks. Others may take several months to recover. The recovery process aims to:
- reduce your risk of another heart attack by introducing a combination of lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, and medications such as statins which help lower blood cholesterol levels
- gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities. This is known as 'cardiac rehabilitation'.
Most people can return to work after having a heart attack, but how quickly this happens depends on your health, the state of your heart and the kind of work you do.
The Heart Foundation can provide more information on heart health through their website at www.heartfoundation.org.au, or by ringing their information line on 1300 36 27 87.
The outlook for people who have survived a heart attack can be highly variable and depend on:
- their age – the older you are the more likely you are to experience serious complications
- the severity of the heart attack – specifically how much of the heart muscle was damaged during the attack
- how long it took before a person received treatment – the longer the delay the worse the outlook tends to be.
In general around one-third of people who have a heart attack die as a result. These deaths often occur before a person reaches hospital, or alternatively, within the first 28 days after the heart attack.
If a person survives for 28 days after having a heart attack, their outlook improves dramatically and most people will go on to live for many years.
Source: NHS Choices, UK (Heart attack)
Facts & figures
- A heart attack is one of the major clinical forms of coronary heart disease (also known as 'ischemic heart disease'). The other is angina (chest pain).
- Coronary heart disease kills more Australians than any other single disease: 22,983 deaths in 2006 which was 17% of all deaths.
- Falls in death rates from coronary heart disease since the 1970s are due to less heart attacks occurring and better survival. Age-standardised coronary heart disease death rates fell by 45% in males and 44% in females between 1996 and 2006.
- Older people get coronary heart disease much more commonly: 7.5% of Australians aged 55-64 years have coronary heart disease increasing to 20.3% for those aged 75 years or over.
- Men get coronary heart disease more commonly than women.
Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (What are cardiovascular diseases?)