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Heart attack

A heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you suspect a heart attack.

A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life threatening.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

It's important to know that not everyone experiences severe chest pain. This is particularly the case with many women. The pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion.

It's the combination of symptoms that's important in determining whether a person is having a heart attack and not the severity of chest pain.

While waiting for an ambulance, it may help to chew and then swallow a tablet of aspirin (ideally 300mg), as long as the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin.

Aspirin helps to thin the blood and improves blood flow to the heart.

In hospital, treatment for a heart attack depends on how serious it is.

The 2 main treatments are:

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks.

CHD is a condition in which the major blood vessels that supply the heart get clogged with deposits of cholesterol, known as plaques.

Before a heart attack, 1 of the plaques bursts (ruptures), causing a blood clot to develop at the site of the rupture.

The clot may block the supply of blood to the heart, triggering a heart attack.

The time it takes to recover from a heart attack will depend on the amount of damage to your heart muscle.

Most people can return to work after having a heart attack. Some people are well enough to return to work after 2 weeks. Other people may take several months to recover. How quickly you can go back to work depends on your health, the state of your heart and the type of work you do.

The recovery process aims to:

Find out more about recovering from a heart attack

Complications of a heart attack can be serious and possibly life threatening.

These include:

These complications can happen quickly after a heart attack and are a leading cause of death.

Many people die suddenly from a complication of a heart attack before reaching hospital or within the 1st month after a heart attack.

The outlook often depends on:

Find out more about complications of a heart attack

There are 5 main steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a heart attack (or having another heart attack):