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A sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart stops, but a heart attack is when the heart is in major trauma caused by a blockage in the heart, which is starving it of blood and therefore oxygen. Heart attacks are very serious, as the heart could stop at any time. There are around 200,000 deaths a year from heart and circulatory disease. Included in this are around about 90,000 deaths due to sudden cardiac arrest. There are around about 125,000 people with heart attacks every year in the UK.

The heart can get a build-up of plaque, causing narrowing of the blood vessels and can cause blockages or muscular spasms. This can build up over a long period of time, showing no signs and symptoms until the heart attack occurs. A big problem with heart attacks is the patient will often not accept they're having a heart attack and delay treatment, as they can't believe what's happening to them or they just blame it on indigestion. 

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • discomfort and pressure in the chest
  • pain in the centre of the chest just below the breastbone
  • pain in the arms (mainly the left arm)
  • discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arms
  • a feeling similar to indigestion, choking or heartburn
  • sweating, nausea or vomiting
  • dizziness,extreme weakness
  • anxiety, shortness of breath 
  • rapid or irregular pulse 
  • the fear and sense of doom

If someone is having a heart attack it does not always mean that their heart is going to stop but it can be a warning sign, which needs to be taken very seriously.  The emergency services must be called immediately.

After identifying the problem and calling the EMS (or getting someone to call them for you) get the patient to sit on the floor and rest their back against something, ideally a wall or solid structure, they should have their legs raised so that their feet are flat on the floor, get them to lean forward. Sitting in this position puts the least possible stress on the heart and should help them to breathe more easily. Stay with the patient and keep them as calm as possible until the emergency medical services arrive.  Giving the patient a 300 milligram aspirin tablet to chew (not swallow) can help as it thins the blood.

When the emergency services arrive, give them as much information as possible including anything you have given the patient and if possible the events that led up to the person having the heart attack.