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Heart attack

2-minute read

A heart attack is a serious medical emergency where the supply of blood to a part of the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

Lack of blood to part of the heart can seriously damage the heart muscle. The longer you leave it before treatment, the more of the heart muscle is damaged. Sometimes the damage can be permanent.

A heart attack is known medically as an 'acute myocardial infarction'.

Dial triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if you suspect that you, or someone you know, is having a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • chest pain - the chest can feel like it is being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms, shoulders and back
  • shortness of breath
  • an awareness of you heart beat or 'palpitations'
  • feeling weak or light-headed
  • an overwhelming feeling of anxiety
  • nausea
  • cold sweat

If you have any of the symptoms above, you could be having a heart attack.

If your symptoms are severe, get worse quickly or last longer than 10 minutes call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile try calling 112.

Early treatment could save your life.

It is important to stress that not everyone experiences severe chest pain. The pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion. Some people will not experience any chest pain at all.

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

Personal story: heart attack

Recovering from a heart attack can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.

Watch this video about a patient's experience recovering from a heart attack.


Read the related video transcript >

More information about this video >

Video Copyright: ©2013 University of Oxford. Used under licence from DIPEx. All rights reserved.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018


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