What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when there is a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of your heart muscle.

Every five minutes, it happens to someone in the UK. There are currently 1.35 million people in the UK who have survived one. Coronary heart disease is the UK’s single biggest killer. Every 6 minutes someone dies of a heart attack in the UK.

A heart attack is life threatening and you need to have treatment as soon as possible.

Early treatment to get the blood flowing to the damaged part of your heart muscle again can save your life and limit the amount of permanent damage. Many people who have a heart attack need to have emergency treatment. One in three people who have a heart attack die before reaching hospital.

Research has shown that symptoms of heart attack can vary dramatically and the sudden onset of crippling pain that leads to people falling to the ground clutching their chest that we are familiar with from television are greatly exaggerated and actually very rare indeed.

The time between the beginning of symptoms and calling for help is the longest cause for delay in receiving treatment for acute heart attacks.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Heart attacks can feel different depending on the person. It may present as a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the center of your chest. Although the chest pain is often severe, some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion.

The pain may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck or jaw, back and abdomen.

It is possible to have a heart attack without experiencing ‘classic’ chest pain, though. This is more common in women, the elderly or people with diabetes.

You may feel sick or short of breath.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Indigestion
  • Sweating or clamminess
  • Pressure on the chest
  • Aching, pins and needles or numbness in the arm
  • light-headedness,
  • dizziness, shortness of breath,
  • nausea

It’s the overall pattern of symptoms that helps to determine whether you are having a heart attack.

Do not worry if you have doubts. Assume that you are having a heart attack and dial 999 to ask for an ambulance immediately.

Tell us your symptoms by using #thinkheartattack on Facebook and Twitter.