What are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when a blood vessel supplying the heart becomes blocked causing a lack of oxygen to reach the heart. A heart attack is a medical emergency and requires prompt emergency treatment in the hospital to ‘unblock’ the artery.

A heart attack is not the same as a cardiac arrest, although a heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating and therefore blood stops circulating around the body.

The medical term for a heart attack is a myocardial infarction. It is important for first aiders to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and call for help promptly

The signs and symptoms of a heart attack

  • Persistent central chest pain – the most important feature in the history – caused by a cut off of the blood supply to the heart muscle and consequent deprivation of oxygen.
  • The pain often spreads to the jaw and down one or both arms.
  • The pain is not relieved by rest – unlike narrowing in angina, a heart attack is caused by a blockage in the artery.
  • Pallor, sweating and nausea – the most consistent signs – they are all signs of nervous stimulation as a result of the pain.
  • Breathlessness and anxiety – as a result of the pain.
  • A rapid weak or irregular pulse
  • Gasping for air
  • Ashen skin color and blueness around the lips (cyanosis)
  • Sudden collapse
  • A feeling of ‘impending doom’ – “I’m going to die”

Not all of these signs and symptoms may be present. If you suspect a heart attack you should not delay in calling for emergency medical help. 

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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5 Responses

  1. A very instructive information

  2. iRelief says:

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  3. KAJJUBI ANDREW says:

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  4. Marjven23 says:

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  5. Frederick Farlen says:

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