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National Heart Month

Published: 07 Feb 2014

With heart attacks being one of the most common reasons for people needing emergency medical treatment, it is vital that members of the public are clued up about them.

As February - rather, National Heart Month - is now upon us, people might like to take this opportunity to get clued up about heart attacks.

They are one of the most common reasons for people in the UK requiring emergency medical assistance, meaning it is all the more important that everyone is able to recognise a potential heart attack when they see one.

What is a heart attack?

Put simply, a heart attack comes about when the blood supply to the heart becomes blocked - more often than not caused by a blood clot. As with any major organ, a lack of blood to the heart is a medical emergency and can result in significant damage being done to the heart muscle.

Given that the heart is responsible for pumping blood around the rest of the body, the secondary implications of a heart attack - known by medical professionals as a myocardial infarction - can be very serious indeed.

The most common cause of heart attacks is coronary heart disease (CHD), the biggest killer in the UK and responsible for as many as 82,000 fatalities every single year. Sometimes called ischaemic heart disease, CHD is more common among smokers, those with a high-fat diet and those classed as being obese.

CHD comes about when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart become increasingly blocked up by deposits of cholesterol called plaques. When one of these bursts, a blood clot will develop, which blocks the heart's blood supply.

What are the common symptoms of a heart attack?

In order to be able to act fast, it is vital that everybody is familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack so they can recognise them in other people and even themselves.

The first common symptom can be chest pain, as if a heavy weight is being pressed down on the torso, which can spread to the jaw, neck, back and arms. However, not everybody experiences this, which is why a heart attack can go unnoticed and perhaps mistaken for indigestion. Individuals who may not feel such chest pain include people with diabetes, some women and older individuals.

Other tell-tale signs of a heart attack can include feeling weak and lightheaded, being or feeling sick, wheezing and coughing, being short of breath and experiencing overwhelming anxiety, rather like a panic attack.

However, it is important to know that symptoms are not universal and tend to be composite, meaning that people should be aware of all of the possible signs.

How to lower your risk of having a heart attack

It may come as little surprise to know that two of the best courses of preventative action are to eat well and exercise regularly - rather, to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Not only will eating a low-fat diet, consuming plenty of fruit and vegetables, drinking lots of water and exercising regularly stave off the risk of having a heart attack, but such a lifestyle will also come with a whole host of other health benefits.

Stubbing out a cigarette habit and shedding pounds if you are overweight or obese should also be two of the first lifestyle changes to make, if these are necessary.

Unless otherwise stated all information has been taken from

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