Overview of Heart Attacks

What is it?

A Heart Attack is where the blood supply to the heart becomes impacted, leading to damage to the heart muscle.

If you leave a Heart Attack for longer periods of time, the muscle can become more damaged and may not be recovered.

A Heart Attack can also be referred to as Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI) and Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS).

When you have a Heart Attack, blood clots stop the flow of blood down the coronary arteries, which leads to blood not supplying the heart muscle.

Typically, this happens as the plaque in your arteries ruptures, with disc-shaped blood platelets in your coronary arteries sticking together around the rupture, leading to a blockage of your coronary artery.

Just like many heart diseases, there are different types of Heart Attacks:

Just like many heart diseases, there are different types of Heart Attacks:’ section: When plaque builds up and leads to a heart attack: 1. Plaque builds-up in the artery, reducing blood flow. 2. Plaque has continued to build up, flow is majorly reduced. Can lead to symptoms such as chest pain, back pain and shortness of breath. 3. 100% blockage of the artery and no blood flow; most likely will result in a heart attack.

Unstable Angina: Angina is a condition where your heart muscle has a temporary deprivation of oxygen leading to chest pain and discomfort but is relieved by rest and Angina medication. Unstable Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when one is resting and typically does not go away with medications such as GTN sprays.

Non-ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (NSTEMI): If you suffer from a non-STEMI, the damage to your heart muscle may be considered relatively small or temporary in nature.

ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction: If you have a STEMI, a large part of your heart muscle has been impacted due to an extended period of reduced blood supply to the heart muscle.

Coronary Spasm: coronary spasm is a condition where your coronary arteries can be spasm intermittently, leading to reduced blood supply to your heart muscle. If this happens for extended periods of time, it can result in a Heart Attack.

Causes

  • The leading cause of a Heart Attack is underlying Coronary Artery Disease. Coronary Artery Disease is where cholesterol deposits build up in your coronary arteries, forming a waxy-like substance called plaque.

Statistics

  • According to the Victor Chang Institute, around 50 Australian women will die per day of a Heart Attack
  • It is estimated that 40% of women’s heart attacks are fatal, with many women unaware of what the symptoms are.
  • Around 56,000 hospitalisations will occur yearly for Heart Attacks.

Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms that women tend to experience when having a Heart Attack are considered ‘atypical’ of normal Heart Attack symptoms.

These are some of the symptom’s women could experience:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal, shoulder, upper back, neck and jaw pain
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Light headedness

Please call emergency services if you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack

Treatment for Heart Attack

It is essential that if you suspect you are a person you know is having a heart attack that you seek immediate medical assistance.

The longer a heart attack progresses for, the less likely the heart muscle can be saved and increases the likelihood of death.

Depending on the nature and severity of your heart attack, you may have a number of different treatments:

Coronary angiogram and stenting

In the coronary angiogram, a balloon (hover over pop-up) will be opened up in your blocked artery to allow blood to flow back to the heart muscle. Once this is achieved, doctors will place a metal stent, which is mesh-like tube that holds open the artery.

Medications

You may be given medications to dissolve clots that have developed in your coronary artery, also known as thrombolytics.

Coronary Bypass Graft Surgery

Also known as CABGs, this surgery is where your own arteries are taken from your arms, legs or chest, reattached to the damaged coronary arteries and allow blood to flow through to the Heart Muscle.

Defibrillators

These may be used to shock your heart back to rhythm if it has stopped or gone into a dangerous rhythm as a result of the Heart Attack.

Prevention and Support

Follow the links below to find out more about how you can help prevent and support loved ones who have experienced heart attacks

Prevention

Prevention

No matter what your age, everyone can benefit from a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise to prevent risk of a heart attack (or having another secondary heart attack).
Supporters

Supporters

Reaching out to a support group could be a beneficial way to meet other people who have a heart condition, as well as provide support for carers of individuals affected.
Carers

Carers

Caring for someone who has had a heart attack can be very stressful. If you ever feel like you are struggling to cope with caring for a loved one, discuss how you feel with someone.

FAQs

What you need to know

As mentioned earlier, it is estimated that around 50 women will die per day of a heart attack. Furthermore, it is estimated that 40% of women’s heart attacks are fatal, with many women unaware of what the symptoms are.

Long-term implications will depend on you and your treatment for a heart attack; we recommend you speak to your GP or specialist about your recovery.

For example, if you underwent an angiogram there will be different recovery instructions than open-heart surgery.

Here are some of the suggested strategies to maximise your recovery from a Heart Attack:

  • It is important to you attend appointments with your doctors so they can monitor your progress, discuss your medications, symptoms etc
  • Develop an action plan in case you experience any symptoms or have concerns about your health
  • Attend a cardiac rehabilitation program to learn about maximising your heart health and meet other survivors
  • Discuss changes and additions to your medications with your pharmacist as well as your doctor
  • Follow guidelines and information about how to manage your diet and lifestyle to keep your heart healthy and prevent a further incident

Research suggests that attending a Secondary Prevention Program for managing Heart Diseases can decrease the chance of being admitted to hospital, reduce your complications as well increase survival rates.

One suggestion is cardiac rehabilitation, as these programs will teach you more about your disease, help you recover, empower you to make lifestyle changes to improve heart health as well as reduce your risk of further problems.

Click here to find your nearest cardiac rehabilitation program.

Your doctor may have recommended that you take some new medications if you have had a heart attack.

This could be an overwhelming time for you, especially as learn all about your new medications as well as any considerations for taking them.

Apart from having a discussion with your doctor and pharmacist, NPS Medicinewise has some great information on medication management, medication disposal as well as risk factors.

They also have some great information about medications for your heart, which can be found here.

It’s not too late to start looking after your heart health, even after a Heart Attack.

Here are some great and easy everyday strategies you can do to look after your heart health:

  • Don’t smoke, as quitting smoking can reduce your risk by 50% in one year. Quitline would be a great way to start your quitting smoking journey.
  • Stay active, 30 minutes per day of exercise, such as walking, can reduce your risk by 30% and delivers many positive health benefits. More information about exercise as well as a sample walking session can be found here.
  • Get some sleep, aim for 7-8 hours sleep and aim to try and unplug from your technology (e.g. iPad) one hour before bedtime. The Sleep Health Foundation has many great women’s focused sleep pages for all stages of your life such as your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, new mothers and menopause.
  • Eat healthy: ensure you watch portion sizes, eat healthy and nourishing foods such as: high fibre foods (including oats and legumes), two pieces of fruit and seven serves of vegetables, reduced salt, three serves of fish per week, reducing saturated fats (such as chicken with skin on, baked goods, fried foods) whilst choosing more lean proteins such as tofu and trimmed meats. The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute has created some handy factsheets to help you choose correct portions, supermarket shopping, healthy snacks and eating out.
  • Relax: try and take some time out for yourself, keep connected with friends and family, perhaps try activities such as meditation to help manage your stress levels. Beyond Blue has a great page full of practical stress relieving tips, and it could be worth to try some meditations from apps such as Smiling Mind, Headspace and Calm.

Yes, there are support groups out there for women and their families after having a heart attack or other type of cardiac event:

Heart Research Australia has an online forum for survivors of a cardiac event, which is perfect for survivors and their families who may be unsure or unable to join a face-to-face support group.

Heart Support is an Australian group that provide support for people that have had a cardiac event. Furthermore, they have a cardiac rehabilitation program for survivors of a cardiac event.