Heart attack in older people
Why do heart attacks happen?
Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease, which is when your coronary arteries narrow due to a gradual build-up of atheroma (fatty material) within their walls
If the atheroma becomes unstable, a piece may break off and lead to a blood clot forming
This clot can block the coronary artery, starving your heart of blood and oxygen and causing damage to your heart muscle. This is a heart attack
It is also called acute coronary syndrome, myocardial infarction, or coronary thrombosis
A heart attack is life-threatening. If you think you, or anyone else, is having a heart attack, you should phone 999 for an ambulance immediately. You are more likely to survive a heart attack if you phone 999 straight away
What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is totally different from a heart attack. A cardiac arrest happens when your heart stops pumping blood around the body
As a result you will be unconscious and won’t be breathing normally. Immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation is needed to have any chance of survival
One of the causes of cardiac arrest is a heart attack. Other causes include electrocution, or choking
If you witness a cardiac arrest, you can increase the person’s chances of survival by phoning 999 and giving immediate CPR
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
The symptoms of a heart attack vary from one person to another
They can range from a severe pain in the centre of the chest, to having mild chest discomfort that makes you feel generally unwell
The symptoms can include central chest pain, a dull pain, ache or ‘heavy’ feeling in your chest, or a mild discomfort in your chest that makes you feel generally unwell
The pain or discomfort may feel like a bad episode of indigestion
This pain or discomfort may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach, as well as having chest pain or discomfort. You can feel light-headed, or dizzy and short of breath. You may also feel nauseous, or vomit
Phone 999 immediately if you think you are having a heart attack, or if you suspect someone is having a heart attack. This means that you will get potentially life-saving treatment as soon as possible
Do not phone your GP if you think you, or someone else, is having a heart attack. You must phone 999 for an ambulance. The sooner you get emergency treatment, the greater your chances of survival and the more of your heart muscle can be saved
Some people delay phoning 999. They may ignore or be uncertain of the symptoms, not think that a heart attack can happen to them or not want to make a fuss. This delay loses valuable time putting people’s lives at risk
Should I take an aspirin if I think I am having a heart attack?
The first thing to do if you think you’re having a heart attack is to phone 999 immediately for an ambulance. You should then sit and rest while you wait for the ambulance to arrive
If you are not allergic to aspirin and have some next to you, or if there is someone with you who can fetch them for you, chew an aspirin
However, if they are not nearby, the person with you should not go hunting for aspirin, they should stay with you
Do not get up and wander around the house looking for an aspirin. This may put unnecessary strain on your heart
How is a heart attack diagnosed?
The ambulance staff will;
- do an electrocardiogram (ECG). This should not delay transfer to the most suitable hospital
- give aspirin if not given already
- assess your symptoms and medical history
- give pain relief if needed and oxygen, if your oxygen level is too low
- examine you and monitor your heart rate and blood pressure.
What treatment will I receive for my blocked artery?
Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PPCI), which is emergency coronary angioplasty. It involves reopening the blocked coronary artery and placing one or more stents in it. This restores blood supply to the part of your heart that is starved of blood, which helps to save as much muscle as possible
Thrombolysis, also called a ‘clot buster’. This involves injecting a medicine into your vein to dissolve the blood clot and restore your blood supply to your heart. If PPCI is not accessible then this will be given to you in the ambulance
In some types of heart attacks, people do not receive either of these two treatments, because they will not benefit from them.
Can I prevent a heart attack?
Living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent you from having a heart attack. If you’re over 40, you should ask your doctor or nurse for a heart health check to assess your risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years
If you have had a heart attack, you can dramatically reduce the risk of having another heart attack and future heart problems by keeping your heart healthy and taking your medicines
What about my recovery?
How long will I survive? Will my heart get better? Low cholesterol diet, what does that mean? Can you have sex again? Who’s going to give me this information?
A heart attack can be a frightening experience and it can take time to come to terms with what has happened. It’s natural to be worried about your recovery and future. Many people make a full recovery and within a few months are able to return to their normal activities
Some people may find that they are not able to do as much as they previously did, but attending a cardiac rehabilitation course will increase your chances of getting back to normal as quickly as possible