A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart.
A heart is a muscle, and it needs a good blood supply to keep it healthy.
As we get older, the smooth inner walls of the arteries that supply the blood to the heart can become damaged and narrow due to the build up of fatty materials, called plaque.
When an area of plaque breaks, blood cells and other parts of the blood stick to the damaged area and form blood clots. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot completely blocks the flow of blood and seriously reduces blood flow to the heart muscle. This also results in patients experiencing chest pain.
As a result, some of the heart muscle starts to die.
The longer the blockage is left untreated, the more the heart muscle is damaged. If the blood flow is not restored quickly, the damage to the heart muscle is permanent.
A heart attack is sometimes called a myocardial infarction (MI), acute myocardial infarction, coronary occlusion or coronary thrombosis.
The underlying cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease.
Some people may not know they have coronary heart disease until they have a heart attack. For others, a heart attack can happen after weeks, months or years of having coronary heart disease.
Heart attack warning signs can vary from person to person, and they may not always be sudden or severe. Read about heart attack warning signs
If you are rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, your health care team will do some tests to find out if you are having a heart attack. They may include:
These tests will help them to decide the best treatment for you. Find out more about medical tests
If you think you’re having a heart attack, call Triple Zero (000). Don’t hang up. Ask the operator for an ambulance. Too many people lose their lives because they wait too long to get treatment for heart attack.
You may be given medicines to help dissolve clots.
There is a high risk of dangerous changes to your heartbeat after the start of a heart attack. The most serious changes stop your heart beating and cause a cardiac arrest. Ambulance or hospital staff may use a defibrillator to give your heart a controlled electric shock that may make it start beating again.
In hospital, you will receive treatments that help to reduce damage to your heart, and to help prevent future problems. You may need to have a procedure like:
Medical treatments and healthy lifestyle choices can help your heart attack recovery, greatly reduce your risk of further heart problems, and relieve or control symptoms such as angina. Read about living with heart disease
If you’ve had a heart attack or a procedure, you should be given information about a cardiac rehabilitation program which is another really important step in your recovery.
Learn more about heart attack recovery, including information on what happened to your heart, heart attack treatment and how you can recover sooner.
Learn the warning signs, call 000 and survive.
Heart attack warning signs
Call 1300 36 27 87 and talk to one of our qualified health professionals.
About our Heart Foundation Helpline