Would you know if you’re having a heart attack? Silly question right. When most people think of heart attacks, they imagine that it will be accompanied by pain in your left arm, profuse sweating and a sudden, sharp pain in your chest. But this isn’t always the case, some people who have a heart attack have no obvious symptoms at all. This is just one of the many common misconceptions about heart attacks.
Another misconception is that a heart attack is the same as cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest came to the nation’s attention in March 2012 when the footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed during an FA Cup match. Thankfully, Muamba recovered and, despite having to retire from playing football, he is looking forward to the birth of his second child. Unfortunately, the British swimmer Chloe Waddell wasn’t as lucky. She suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this month and was unable to be revived. This highlights that heart problems aren’t just an issue for older people or people who don’t live a healthy lifestyle. Cardiac arrest has affected the healthiest and fittest of individuals, as well as young people.
What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is very different from a heart attack. A cardiac arrest happens when your heart suddenly stops beating because of a problem with its electrical system. This often happens without warning and means that your heart stops pumping blood around your body. Without immediate CPR or a shock from an automatic external defibrillator (AED), a cardiac arrest can be fatal.
According to the British Heart Foundation, most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease (CHD), which is caused by a build up of fatty deposits on your artery walls. This can block the blood flow to your heart. CHD is more common in men over 45 years and women over 55. A heart attack doesn’t always mean your heart has stopped beating but it can cause cardiac arrest.
How do I know if I’m at risk?
As with anything, knowledge is power, and knowing how your heart works is a step in the right direction.
[ animation: How the heart works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84PrHxJri9Q]
Certain risk factors for cardiac arrest include the following.
• Previously having a heart attack.
• A family history of sudden death, heart failure or heart attack.
• An abnormal heart rate or rhythm that hasn’t been diagnosed.
• A rapid heart rate that comes and goes, even if you’re at rest.
• If you’ve previously fainted for an unknown reason.
• A low ejection fraction. This is how much blood is pumped by your ventricles with each heart beat.
The charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young also recommend having an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram to diagnose any heart abnormalities, especially if you’re at risk. If you’re unsure if any of these risks apply to you, speak to your doctor for more advice.
Is there anything I can do?
Knowing the signs of someone having a cardiac arrest can be a lifesaver. If you have a cardiac arrest, you lose consciousness almost at once and there are no signs of movement or breathing. If you witness a cardiac arrest it’s important to take immediate action and follow these steps.
• Call the emergency services.
• Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) . This means chest compressions and rescue breathing.
• Use an AED if one is available.
How can I prevent a cardiac arrest?
Although there’s no one thing that can prevent cardiac arrest. Living a heart healthy lifestyle by getting plenty of exercise, eating a healthy balanced diet and not smoking can all help to reduce your risk.
British Heart Foundation
0300 330 3322
Cardiac Risk in the Young
- Image credit Cheap photos
- License: Image author owned
Produced by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2013
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