Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack could save your life, or the life of a person you love. Unfortunately, one Australian has a stroke or heart attack every four minutes, which is why the National Heart Foundation dedicates the first week of May each year to raising awareness about heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease.
As a guide, below are some questions people commonly ask us at Family Doctors Plus.
What is a heart attack?
To function correctly, your heart requires a good blood supply. The coronary arteries supply blood to your heart and if they become blocked, a heart attack occurs. A blockage causes the blood flow to stop, resulting in a reduced amount of oxygen supply to your heart muscle. Common symptoms include chest pain and discomfort which potentially spreads to the neck, jaw, arms and back (more on symptoms below). Heart attacks require hospitalisation and sometimes they can be fatal.
What causes heart attacks?
The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease. This happens when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to your heart, narrow because of a build-up of plaque (not the teeth kind). Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other materials. The narrowed artery causes a reduced amount of blood flow to your heart muscle. There are other reasons people may have a heart attack, including when a coronary artery contracts (spasms) and narrows.
How do I prevent heart disease?
Lifestyle changes are the best defence to reduce modifiable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These include: Quitting smoking, choosing good nutrition, maintaining a healthy weight, having healthy cholesterol levels, lowering high blood pressure, being physically active every day, managing diabetes, reducing stress and limiting alcohol. Your doctor can help you devise a plan of action for lifestyle changes based on your medical history.
- For further reading, see this article in Healthline for more tips on healthy nutrition.
What are heart attack signs and symptoms?
If someone has a heart attack, early treatment is vital. More damage can occur the longer a blockage is left untreated. Some common heart attack warning signs include:
- Chest discomfort or pain (also called angina). Uncomfortable pressure can be felt, or aching, numbness, squeezing or a fullness or pain in the chest. Many people may not be aware that this discomfort can spread to your jaw, arms, neck or back and can come or go or last several minutes.
- Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
- Sweating or a cold sweat
- Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath
- Dizziness, light-headedness or feeling faint can be a sign an attack is coming.
It is also possible to experience no warning signs at all, also known as a silent heart attack.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these warning signs and having a heart attack call for an ambulance by dialling Triple Zero (000) immediately.
Should you book a heart health check?
About 1.4 million Australians have a high chance of experiencing a stroke or heart attack within the next five years, according to the Heart Foundation. If you are aged 45 or more, or 30 or more for people of Aboriginal and Torres Islander descent, your risk is greater. Therefore, it is important to have a Heart Health Check, which detects issues with your heart health. Also, some risk factors can be silent, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
At a heart health check, your GP or nurse will assess your risk for heart disease, asking you some medical history and lifestyle questions. They will check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, then advise you of steps to take to lower your risk based on your results.
Our dedicated team of GPs and allied health professionals help people understand the risks of heart disease and can support you to make positive changes to lower any risks. Contact the friendly team at Family Doctors Plus today to make an appointment.
Sources and further reading: