Heart Attack

A Heart Attack is caused by a complete blockage to a coronary artery – one of the arteries that supply blood to your heart. This stops blood and oxygen flowing to the myocardium – the heart muscle itself – and causes some of the heart tissue to die.

A Heart Attack is a medical emergency. If you, or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms described below, call 000 for urgent medical attention.

Get the facts on Heart Attack

What is a Heart Attack?

A Heart Attack is sometimes called a Myocardial Infarction (MI), Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI), Coronary Occlusion or Coronary Thrombosis. A Heart Attack is the last stage in the progression of Cardiovascular Disease and despite steady improvement, Cardiovascular Disease remains as one of the largest causes of death in the first world.

Interestingly, Cardiovascular Disease is one of the most controllable and even preventable diseases known and with the help of your doctor, can often be delayed and even avoided with a few life style and diet changes combined with supplements known to improve heart health.

The most common signs of a Heart Attack include crushing central chest pain, severe or mild pain down the arms, or up to the neck or jaw, sweating, shortness of breath and feeling ill. Immediate medical help is essential, because damage to the heart muscle can be permanent.

Once you’ve had a Heart Attack there’s also a strong Risk of developing dangerous changes to your heartbeat – abnormal heart rhythms called Arrhythmias – or life threatening Cardiac Arrest, where your heart stops beating. A Heart Attack also places you at greater Risk of a Stroke.

What are the causes and symptoms?

90% of Heart Attacks are a result of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). The slow build-up of fatty plaque deposits on the arterial walls clog and narrow the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart muscle itself, making it difficult for the blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle.

How do Heart Attacks happen?

When part of the plaque that lines the artery walls cracks, blood cells can stick to the area. This forms a clot that completely blocks the blood flow to the heart, triggering a Heart Attack.

The longer the artery remains blocked, the longer that section of the muscle is without blood flow, and the greater the damage to the heart.

Warning signs can vary greatly - if you’re in any doubt, don’t hesitate to get help immediately by calling 000.

How do I recognise a Heart Attack?

The most common signs include:
Crushing mild to severe central chest pain, severe to mild pain down the arms, or up to the neck or jaw, sweating, shortness of breath and feeling ill or even a feeling of impending doom with or without chest pain.

The signs don’t stop there - they can also include: pressure, heaviness or tightness in your upper body, abdominal pain similar to indigestion, dizziness, potentially leading to loss of consciousness.

How is it treated?

Call 000 immediately. Ambulance staff will start treatment as soon as they arrive on the scene, to stop further damage to the heart muscle. The job of reducing heart damage, and preventing future Heart Attacks continues in hospital where test results and condition determine treatment options. The good news is that with support, a heart healthy lifestyle and medication, many people make a full recovery within a few months.

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Surgical Procedures

Thrombolysis / Fibrinolysis (using tissue plasminogen activator known as TPA) is a ‘clot buster’ that is injected directly into the blocked coronary artery to dissolve the clot and restore blood supply. This must be performed within three hours of the Heart Attack. Alternatively, to restore the flow of blood to the heart, surgeons may perform a coronary angioplasty. This procedure inserts a ‘balloon’ into your artery, opening up the blockage.

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All patients who have experienced a Heart Attack are commenced on blood thinners, commonly aspirin and/or clopidogrel. Patients also start on statins as, even if their cholesterol is normal, statins definitely lower the Risk of future Heart Attacks, as do beta-blockers such as metoprolol.

For those patients unsuitable for heart surgery, additional medications (such as calcium channel blockers) are prescribed to keep the heart blood vessels as wide open as possible. Nitrate patches applied to the skin can work the same way.

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Once the coronary artery blockage is open, a stent, or expandable metal tube, is often inserted into the artery so that it stays open permanently. Another treatment is coronary artery bypass graft surgery, (CABG). This procedure uses a section of healthy vein or synthetic tubing to redirect blood flow around a narrowed area in one or more of your coronary arteries, so that blood can flow to the heart more freely. In some cases, people who experience a Heart Attack develop Arrhythmias, which may be treated surgically with implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICD’s) or with medications

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Controlling Risks

The essential part of any treatment includes managing or treating controllable Risk factors - High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, diabetes, smoking, atrial fibrillation and being overweight.

How can I prevent a Heart Attack?

CHD, the underlying cause of a Heart Attack, generally develops over several years, so taking steps now to improve your heart health is essential. Know your Risk factors, manage them, and follow this quick guide to improved cardiovascular health. Importantly, if you have any concerns about your heart, particularly if you have a family history of heart disease, don’t delay – talk to your doctor.

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Don't Smoke

If you smoke, there has never been a better time to quit. Nicotine replacement patches or prescription medications are effective in reducing the cravings.

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Check Your Cholesterol Levels Regularly

Do you know your cholesterol levels? Most people don't. Information is key, so knowing where you stand is the first step in keeping track and maintaining your heart health. You can order a Blood Pathology Request through HeartSmart.me. Results are mailed directly to you and you can track your results using the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.

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Take Supplements Daily

Supplements are a great way to make sure you're getting your daily requirement of heart healthy nutrients. Supplements such as Omega 3 fish oil, Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q10 can be very beneficial to your heart health.

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Keep Your Blood Sugar In Range

If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s direction and keep your blood glucose within a healthy range. Even if you don't have diabetes, stick to a low GI (Glycaemic Index) diet. You won’t be hungry and your blood sugar levels will be stable.

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Check Your Blood Pressure Regularly

Order a HeartSmart.me blood pressure monitor and keep track of your blood pressure weekly. You can record your results in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me. Aim to keep your blood pressure out of the danger zone - below 140/90mmHg. If your blood pressure is consistently high see your doctor.

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Be Active

Get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least 2 hours in total per week. Even better, if you can get 4 hours of sweaty activity per week, you'll help lower your Risk of cancer too.

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Watch Your Waistline

Get your waist measurement to your 'low risk' zone. Men should keep it below 95cm and women should be below 80cm. Aim for a Body Mass Index of less than 25. You can track your progress in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.

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Seek Happiness

Happiness is good for the heart. Just as negative emotions such as depression, anger, and hostility are risk factors for heart attack and stroke, studies show that happiness seems to protect the heart.