London Heart

Heart Failure

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is the name given to chest pain due to the heart muscle not getting enough blood supply. The heart is a muscle, and like any muscle, it requires blood to work effectively and pump blood around the body. The blood is supplied to the heart by vessels called “coronary arteries.” Sometimes, for various reasons, these arteries narrow and sometimes, can block off completely. When this happens, the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood supply to function properly and becomes strained. This, usually causes, chest pain. Sometimes, it can be chest pain only when you exercise and the heart needs to work harder to pump the blood around the body, and sometimes, it happens when your body is resting.

What causes a heart attack?

There are many things that have been identified as making someone more likely to have a heart attack.

They are mentioned below:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • blood pressure
  • Family history of coronary artery disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Certain ethnic groups are at higher risk

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Unsurprisingly, most people who have a heart attack develop chest pain, but not everyone. The pain is often described as “tightness” or “pressure” in the chest. It is often described as a weight pushing down on the chest. It is often associated with feeling sweaty and nauseous. Other people complain of shortness of breath.

What should I do if I think I’m having a heart attack?

If you are worried that you, or someone around you is having a heart attack, the most important thing to do is call for an ambulance as fast as possible. Time is of the essence as the faster it is treated, the less damage the heart will sustain.

When the ambulance arrives, they will immediately do a heart tracing (ECG) – depending on what this shows, you will either be taken to your local hospital or, if it shows a heart attack, you will be taken to the nearest Cardiac Unit.

How will my heart attack be treated?

Treatment depends on the type of heart attack you are having. If you are having a STEMI (severe heart attack), you will likely be taken to a specialist cardiac unit. There, they will imediately perform a procedure called PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention), where a tube is put into the artery in your wrist or groin and passed up to the heart. When there, the Cardiologists will take pictures of the arteries of the heart by injecting dye into the veins and taking x-rays at the same time. If they identify blockage, they can open it up with stents (which are like very special springs which can hold the artery open from the inside).

If you are not having a STEMI, you will likely to be taken to your local hospital where they will initially treat you with blood thinning drugs. You will likely have an angiogram and PCI during your hospital admission, but it does not need to be straight away. If, during your angiogram, there are any blockages, they can be treated with stents to ensure adequate blood supply to the heart.

Sometimes, the blockages in the arteries can’t be treated with stents. In this case, your team will discuss the options with you. One option is coronary artery bypass graft surgery (open heart surgery) where the surgeons will use bits of blood vessels taken from the leg or the wall of the chest and “bypass” the blockages, ensuring that blood is reaching the heart muscle.

What happens after my heart attack?

When you are ready to go home, you will be given lots of new medication. It is likely that you will be given 2 different types of medication to help keep the arteries open (anti-platelet drugs). One, aspirin, will be life-long and another one will be for up to a year. If you have had a stent inserted, it is incredibly important that you continue to take these medications, every day for the full year. If you don’t, there is a chance that your stent could become blocked and cause even more damage to the heart.

You will also be given other medication to take some of the pressure off the heart and help with it’s healing. Also, to help the heart recover, you will be offered a structured “rehab programme” to help strengthen the heart.

How can I prevent another heart attack?

There are certain things that can help prevent another heart attack. If you are a smoker, stopping smoking can dramatically reduce the risk. Also taking medications regularly can help, along with modifying your diet and lifestyle to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Exercise is also a very good way to help prevent another heart attack.