Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: How to recognise a heart attack

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Do you know the warning signs?

A healthy life reduces the chances of suffering a heart attack but if it happens you need to remember the signs and act fast.

What happens when somebody has a heart attack?


“When there's a narrowing and a blockage of one of the main arteries that supply the heart muscle and the heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen and other nutrients, the heart can't survive under those conditions” the Australian Heart Foundation’s cardiologist Garry Jennings tells SBS Radio.

It’s also recommended that you book a heart health check with your doctor to evaluate your risk, especially if you’ve had a family history of heart attacks.

What are some of the risk factors?

High blood pressure

When your blood pressure is high your heart and arteries can become overloaded. But it can be treated, so see your doctor regularly to check your blood pressure.

Doctor taking patients blood pressure in examination room
Doctor taking patients blood pressure in examination room
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High cholesterol

Try to avoid excess cholesterol in your diet. An imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke. 

Unhealthy diet and diabetes

Vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits

An unhealthy diet can lead to being overweight which increases the risk of heart disease and other health problems. By maintaining a healthy and balanced diet you can reduce your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Diabetes Australia also gives recommendations on how to manage your diabetes to help prevent a heart attack.

Lack of physical activity

Being inactive and sitting for too long is not good for your heart health. Health professionals suggest doing about 30 minutes of exercise every day. Walking is a good way to get you started!

A man jogs in Brisbane
High-intensity interval training protects the heart and body against Type 2 diabetes, say experts. (AAP)


You're at an increased risk of heart attack if you're a smoker. Being smoke free is one of the best ways to protect your heart. And once you quit, the extra risk is reduced.

A smoker enjoys a cigarette
Smoking costs $A1.4 trillion a year: study

Social isolation and depression

People without a social support network, family or friends can be at a great risk of heart problems. Depression can be another contributing factor. Beyond Blue recommends if you feel depressed for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor, a family member or someone you know well.

Some risk factors you cannot change

The Heart Foundation outlines some of the risk factors which we have no control over,  like age, family history or ethnic background. For example people from the Indian sub-continent have higher-risk of having a heart-attack than others.

What are some of the symptoms?

Experiencing discomfort and chest pain

While warning signs vary from person to person, the first sign to look out for is chest pain. You can experience sudden tightness around your chest.

“If it's an acute heart attack the chest pain will be severe and unrelenting. It will usually be present on the left side of the chest, but it can be more central. The pain will radiate through the jaw and down the left arm” says Heart of Australia's cardiologist Rob Perel.

Experiencing discomfort in your arms, neck or back

The discomfort may spread to different parts of your upper body. Your arms may feel heavy or useless.

Feeling short of breath

You may experience a shortness of breath. Other symptoms can include having a choking sensation in your throat, nausea, cold sweats and feeling dizzy.

What to do?

Ambulances near a hospital
NSW plane crash victims fighting for life

The first thing to do when you're having a heart attack is to call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. “The ambulance officers will give you Aspirin when they turn up. You should sit down and rest and avoid putting extra stress on your heart until someone gets to you to further diagnose it and further treat it” says Heart of Australia's cardiologist Rob Perel.

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