Recognising Medical Conditions: Part 3 – Heart Attack

A major heart attack is usually obvious. It occurs when there is a loss of blood flow to the heart. There is severe chest pain, often radiating to the arm, jaw, neck back or abdomen. There may be blueness of the skin and the person might collapse.

A minor heart attack may not be so obvious. Much milder symptoms may be experienced. For example, my wife experienced some shortness of breath when swimming and only very mild chest discomfort. Luckily she saw her doctor, was referred for immediate treatment (stents inserted) and avoided a serious heart attack. It is very easy to dismiss these mild symptoms and assume they are just an indication of age.

Symptoms can include:

  • Minor chest pain, similar to indigestion. Often older people often do not experience any pain at all.
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)

When there is little or no pain and the person recovers quickly it is very easy to dismiss mild symptoms and assume they are just an indication of ageing. They may also have had several incidences which they have ignored or not mentioned to you.

Symptoms of heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to perform its usual functions adequately and, in the early stages, can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Regular swelling of the ankles and lower legs
  • Needing to sleep sitting up to breathe easily

In later stages:

  • The hands may swell
  • The person may become breathless on exertion
  • Lips, ears or fingernails may have a blue tinge

What to do

Heart failure can be treated. If you suspect it, the person you are caring for should see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you think someone is having a heart attack phone 999 immediately for an ambulance. The person must sit and rest while waiting for help to arrive. If you have an adult aspirin (300mg) available get the person to chew on it, unless they are allergic to aspirin or have been told not to take it.

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body – the person will be unconscious and won’t be breathing normally. In this instance phone 999 immediately and, if you don’t have access to an automated external defibrillator, give hands only CPR. This will increase the person’s chance of survival.

To view a video of someone giving CPR go to

For further information visit the British Heart Foundation website

Leymar Healthcare provide Homecare Services in Ashfield and 24 Hour Live in Care in the UK to vulnerable adults in their community. Please contact our office on 01623 360 193 or email us at

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