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Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

A heart attack (also known as a Myocardial Infarction) is a medical emergency and you should call 999 for an ambulance immediately. It happens when there’s a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. Without enough blood and oxygen your heart can be seriously damaged.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack:

Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. They can include:

  • Pain or discomfort in your chest that happens suddenly and doesn't go away

  • Pain that spreads to your left or right arm, or to your neck, jaw, back or stomach. For some people the pain or tightness is severe, while for others it’s uncomfortable. It may feel like heaviness, or a burning pain similar to indigestion

  • Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of harder to exercise

What causes a Heart Attack?

Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease (CHD).

CHD causes your coronary arteries to become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty deposits called atheroma. If a piece of atheroma breaks off, a blood clot forms around this to try and repair the damage to the artery wall. 

This clot can block your coronary artery – either a partial blockage (known as NSTEMI) or total blockage (STEMI). This causes your heart muscle to be starved of blood and oxygen. Other less common causes of a heart attack include:

• spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

• drug misuse

• hypoxia (sudden drop in oxygen levels in the body)

How is a Heart Attack diagnosed?

The ambulance team will do an electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect whether you're having a heart attack. If the ECG shows you’re having a heart attack, you’re likely to have emergency treatment as soon as you arrive in hospital. If the ECG doesn’t confirm a heart attack you might need further tests to investigate if you are having a heart attack, including:

  • An assessment of your symptoms and medical history

  • physical examinations, including measuring your blood pressure and monitoring your heart rhythm and heart rate

  • blood tests including a troponin test to detect if there’s been any damage to your heart muscle

  • an Echocardiogram

How is a Heart Attack treated?

Quick treatment to get the blood flowing to your heart muscle again is important. This can reduce the amount of permanent damage to your heart and save your life. Many people need to have emergency treatment to restore the blood flow:

  • Coronary angioplasty re-opens the blocked coronary artery by inserting one or more stents. This helps keep the narrowed artery open

  • Thrombolysis involves giving you ‘clot-busting’ medicine to dissolve the blood clot that's blocking the coronary artery

  • Coronary bypass surgery helps to restore normal blood flow by using a blood vessel from your leg, arm or chest in your heart to bypass the blocked artery

You might not have these treatments if your doctor decides it's not safe or necessary

More information:

For more information about Heart Attacks, you can find guides here by the British Heart Foundation or the NHS.

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