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Heart Attacks

What causes a heart attack?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. Coronary Heart Disease is a condition in which coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that supply blood to the heart) get clogged up with deposits of cholesterol. These deposits are called plaques.

Before a heart attack, one of the plaques bursts, causing a blood clot to develop which may then block the supply of blood running through the coronary artery, triggering a heart attack.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease is increased by:

Men are more likely to have a heart attack than women. The British Heart Foundation estimates that around 50,000 men and 32,000 women have a heart attack each year in England.

Most heart attacks occur in people aged over 45.

Signs of a heart attack

  • persistent chest pain, often described as heavy pressure, crushing or vice-like pain
  • pain which often spreads to the jaw, neck and down one or both arms
  • breathlessness
  • discomfort high in the abdomen, similar to indigestion.
  • collapsing without warning
  • ashen skin and blueness at the lips
  • rapid, weak pulse which may be irregular
  • profuse sweating and skin which is cold to the touch
  • gasping for air
  • nausea and/or vomiting


  • sit the casualty in the ‘W’ position (sitting up on the ground with knees bent, resting on hands).
  • dial 999 for an ambulance.

If the person is fully conscious:

  • give them a 300mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly, provided that there are no reasons not to give the aspirin and provided that the patient is aged over 16 years old.
  • if the person has any medication for angina, such as tablets or a spray, assist them to take it.
  • constantly monitor and record their breathing and pulse rate until help arrives.

If the person becomes unconscious:

in some cases there may be a Do Not Resuscitate statement in place stating that the person should not be resuscitated.

Other useful organisations

  • NHS 111 is the new telephone service which has replaced NHS Direct. You can call 111 when you need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency. NHS 111 is a fast and easy way to get the right help, whatever the time.
  • NHS.UK  is a website providing health and medical advice, an online symptom checker and a facility for searching for services near you.

Please note – The content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you are feeling unwell, make an appointment to see your GP or contact NHS 111. In an emergency, dial 999.

Last updated: June 9, 2022

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