Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Heart attack

Heart attack
beginning of content

Complications of a heart attack

2-minute read

Potential complications arising from a heart attack can vary widely, from none to mild to life threatening.

Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat, such as beating too quickly (‘tachycardia’), too slowly (‘bradycardia’) or irregularly.

Arrhythmias can develop after a heart attack as a result of damage to the muscles. Damaged muscles disrupt electrical signals used by the body to control the heart. Some arrhythmias are mild and can cause symptoms such as:

Mild arrhythmias can usually be controlled with medicine, such as beta blockers. More troublesome arrhythmias that cause repeated and prolonged symptoms may need to be treated with a pacemaker. A pacemaker is an electric device surgically implanted in the chest which is used to help regulate the heartbeat.

Other arrhythmias can be life threatening and can pose a risk of death during the first 24 hours after a heart attack:

  • ‘bradycardia’, a slow heart rate caused by complete heart block (where the electrical signal doesn’t travel from the top of the heart to the bottom of the heart)
  • ‘ventricular arrhythmia’, leading to sudden cardiac arrest (where the heart stops altogether)

However, survival rates have improved significantly since the invention of the defibrillator, an external device that delivers an electric shock to the heart and ‘resets’ it to the right rhythm. Learn more about defibrillators and how to perform CPR.

Heart failure

Heart failure is when your heart is unable to effectively pump blood around your body. It can develop after a heart attack if muscles in your heart are extensively damaged.

Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • swelling in your arms and legs due to a build-up of fluid

Heart failure can be treated with a combination of medicines and, in some cases, surgery. Learn more about heart failure.

Heart rupture

Heart rupture is a serious complication of a heart attack that occurs in about 10% of cases. The heart’s muscles, walls or valves split apart, usually one to five days after the heart attack. Open heart surgery is required to repair the damage. However, about half of all people die within 5 days of the rupture occurring.

Last reviewed: July 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Heart attack

A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart. As a result, some of your heart muscle begins to die. Without early medical treatment, this damage can be permanent.

Read more on WA Health website

Heart attack - Better Health Channel

Heart attack is an emergency. If you have warning signs of heart attack, get help fast. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

What is a heart attack? | The Heart Foundation

Get information on types of heart attack, know the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack and learn facts about heart attack

Read more on Heart Foundation website

What causes a heart attack? | The Heart Foundation

Knowing what causes a heart attack is the first step to preventing a heart attack or stroke. Learn the risks and causes of a heart attack and how to manage them.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

About heart attacks | The Heart Foundation

Have you had a heart attack? Understanding what happened during your heart attack can help you recover more quickly.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart attack - myDr.com.au

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) means the blood supply to part of the heart muscle has become blocked. Early treatment can reduce damage to the muscle.

Read more on myDr website

After my heart attack | The Heart Foundation

A guide to understanding your heart attack

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart attack treatment | The Heart Foundation

Learn how heart attacks are treated by health professionals, what happens in hospital and questions to ask your doctor.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Symptoms of heart attack & stroke in women | Jean Hailes

Knowing the symptoms of heart attack and stroke may not only save your life it may also save the life of another. Symptoms of heart attack in women can be different to men and include pain and pressure in the chest, neck, arm, jaw, shortness of breath, di

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Exercise tips after a heart attack | The Heart Foundation

Heart attack recovery exercise program with recommended goals and activity

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo