Every year in Australia around 55,000 Australians suffer a heart attack. That’s one heart attack every 10 minutes. Sadly, 9,000 of these result in death. That equates to one life every hour, or 24 Australians each day.
However, the earlier you seek treatment the less damage will be done to your heart. The key is to call for help as soon as you notice any warning signs, rather than wait for it to happen.
What is a heart attack?
Our heart is a muscle, requiring a good blood supply to keep it healthy. Blood is supplied to the heart through arteries. Healthy arteries have smooth inner walls that allow the blood to flow freely. Over time, our arteries can become damaged and blocked by fatty materials, called plaque.
When plaque breaks off these walls, blood cells and other parts of blood stick to the damaged area and form blood clots. When an artery completely bocks off the flow of blood or seriously reduces blood flow, a heart attack occurs.
As a result, part of the heart muscle begins to die. The longer the blockage is left untreated, the more muscle dies. If blood flow is not restored quickly, damage to the heart is permanent and the patient dies.
What are the warning signs of heart attack
Most people believe chest pain and discomfort are the only warning signs of a heart attack. While they are common symptoms, not everyone will experience chest pain at all. Some people will experience only mild chest pain or discomfort, and others may experience one symptom or a combination of symptoms. Because symptoms vary for everyone, it pays to know what to look for.
It is common to experience pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in your:
- Jaw — You may notice discomfort in and around the lower jaw on either one or both sides, or it can spread from your chest to your jaw.
- Neck — You may feel general discomfort in your neck, or a choking or burning feeling in your throat. The pain may spread from your chest or shoulders to your neck.
- Shoulders — You may experience a general ache, heaviness or pressure which spreads from chest to shoulder(s).
- Chest — You may feel heaviness, tightness, pressure or a crushing sensation in the centre of your chest. It may be mild or sever and it could make you feel generally unwell.
- Note: Sharp and stabbing chest pain is generally less associated with having a heart attack.
- Back — You may feel a dull ache in between your shoulder blades, which can spread from your chest to your back.
- Arms — You may experience discomfort, pain, heaviness, numbness, tingling or uselessness in one or both arms. This feeling may spread from your chest to your arm(s).
While you are experiencing symptoms, you may also:
- feel nauseous or generally unwell
- become dizzy or light-headed
- break out in a cold sweat
- feel short of breath or have difficulty breathing
Women are more likely to experience non-chest pain symptoms of a heart attack than men, so it’s important you know the signs.
What should you do if you notice warning signs?
If you experience any of the warning signs above, call triple zero (000) immediately. Don’t hang up but ask the operator for an ambulance. Many people die from heart attack as they wait too long to seek treatment.
Treatment begins the moment you make the call. The operator may provide you with advice that might just save your life. And paramedics are trained to treat you as soon as they arrive.
And if it turns out to be a false alarm, then be thankful. Don’t put off calling in case it is a false alarm and you’ll feel embarrassed.
What can you do to reduce your risk of heart attack?
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of having a heart attack. This includes:
- quitting smoking if you are a smoker
- managing your blood pressure and blood cholesterol
- managing diabetes if you have it
- engaging in regular, moderate exercise on most days of the week
- achieving and maintain a healthy weight
- following a healthy diet, taking care to eat from a wide range of food groups
- reducing stress in your life and seek treatment for depression.
Remember, you only have one heart so make sure you take care of it. The best way to do that, is to live a healthy lifestyle.
If you are concerned about your risk for heart disease or heart attack, be sure to speak to your doctor.
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