What does a heart attack look like? Does the person always stop, clutch their chest looking momentarily terrified and drop to the floor?
This is what we call the “Hollywood Heart Attack” it’s what TV programs and films show to demonstrate to the viewer exactly what’s happening without the explanation. *Cue end music* tune in next week to see Barbra in a hospital gown 😉
In the real world a heart attack can look very different, symptoms can even vary between men and women.
Just a bit of background...
A heart attack is a blockage in the heart, which stops oxygen getting to all parts of the muscle which makes the heart muscle die. Blockages can be caused by blood clot or narrowing of an arteries by build up of cholesterol, (you know that stuff they go on about in the Flora adverts!).
Imagine your circulation system being like a motorway all around your body, a heart attack is like the road to the heart being closed for roadworks or traffic cones cutting the three lanes down to one.
If it doesn’t always look like it does on TV, what am I looking for? I hear you ask
Signs and symptoms may include:
Pain in the centre of the chest, though many women do not experience this symptom which may be why only 2 in 1000 women compared with 6 in 1000 men between 30-69 years old are known to have heart attacks each year in the UK.
Pain may spread into the back, between the shoulder blades and into the arms (particularly the left arm)
Some women complain of neck or tooth ache or upper abdominal pain
Struggling to get their breath
Paler than usual or grey skin, maybe with blueness around the lips
Feeling or being sick
Dizzy and weak
So now comes the really important bit… What can you do to help?!
Dial 999 for an ambulance. Do not wait to see if the pain subsides.
Sit the casualty down. This will take pressure off the heart and also prevent the casualty hurting themselves if they collapse. It is best to lean the casualty against something and lift and support their knees. This is commonly referred to as a ‘w’ position. (pictures at the bottom!)
Reassure the casualty and try to keep them calm (easier said than done I know!)
If the casualty has their own medication for a heart condition let them use it. If they do not have any medication, we can offer aspirin if we have it and they are able to take it. (not allergic for example) They should take a normal dose as indicated on the packet (usually 300mg). The casualty should chew the tablet slowly, which will allow it to get to work quicker than swallowing. If you are unsure, ask 999 ambulance for advice.
If the casualty loses consciousness or stops breathing ask 999 for advice.
No amount of coughing is going to help if you're home alone and having a heart attack, no matter what "the cardiologist on Facebook" says..
If you are home alone and may be having a heart attack, call 999, unlock and open your front door to allow the paramedics access should you become unconscious. Once you've done that sit in the W position and stay calm until help arrives