About six in a thousand men, and two in a thousand women in the UK between 30-69 years old, have a heart attack each year.
A heart attack is a blockage in the heart, which stops oxygen getting to all parts of the heart and makes the heart muscle die. Blockages can be caused by blood clot or narrowing of an artery supplying the heart.
Possible signs and symptoms include:
- A crushing pain in the centre of the chest (although some heart attacks are painless)
- Pain may spread into the back, between the shoulder blades and into the arms (particularly the left arm)
- Shortness of breath
- Paler than usual or grey skin, with possible blueness (cyanosis) of the lips
- Sweating / clammy
- May be feeling or being sick
- Dizziness and weakness
- 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, if possible, support their knees. This is commonly referred to as a ‘w’ position.
- Dial 999 for an ambulance. Do not wait to see if the pain subsides.
- Reassure the casualty and try to keep them relaxed.
- 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 an aspirin if we have it. Although a first aider is not allowed to prescribe medication, an adult casualty may decide to take medication themselves. They should take a normal dose as indicated on the packet, and you should note any advice of when someone should not take aspirin (for example they have allergies to aspirin or have stomach ulcers). The casualty should chew the medication slowly, which will allow it to transfer into the bloodstream quicker than swallowing. If you are unsure, ask ambulance control for advice.
- Be prepared to use your emergency plan if the casualty stops responding, or stops breathing.