Did you know that heart problem are the leading cause of death in Australia? And, that many of these deaths could be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment? In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common heart problems in Australia, and how they can be treated. We’ll also discuss some first aid tips that everyone can use during an emergency.
A heart Attack is a cardiovascular event caused by the sudden death of heart muscle cells. The most common cause of this is a blockage of the coronary arteries (arteries that supply the heart with blood) either by thrombus, or less commonly spasms.
The cells become starved of oxygen due to this sudden loss of perfusion which causes the heart to stop functioning normally or to stop altogether.
Risk Factors include:
- Fatty deposits on the artery walls (atherosclerosis)
- High blood pressure / Hypertension
- Poor diet
- Lack of Exercise
- A positive family history of first-degree relatives with cardiovascular events at a fairly young age (<60yrs)
Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack:
- The casualty may complain of central chest pain that may radiate to the shoulders, neck or jaw. They may also clutch at their chest
- Unfortunately, heart attacks do NOT always involve chest PAINS but rather discomforts such as tightness, heaviness, squeezing and dull rather than sharp/stabbing sensations or simply angina “equivalents” symptoms such as shortness of breath/lethargy in diabetics
- Pale, cool skin
- The casualty may start sweating for no apparent reason
- Breathing may become strained and rapid. The casualty may have obvious difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed.
- Women can have all sorts of “atypical” symptoms, so if in doubt call an ambulance!
- Call 000 / 112 immediately, and ask for an ambulance
- Follow the instructions of the ambulance call taker/operator who will advise you on what to do
- Encourage the casualty to stop what they are doing
- Sit the casualty down, and make them comfortable
- Provide reassurance and stay calm
- Remove clothing that potentially inhibits breathing
- Give dissolvable aspirin 300mg (usually one tablet)
o Withhold if the casualty is known to be anaphylactic to aspirin
- Ensure good access to fresh air
- Monitor DRS ABCD, and be prepared to start CPR if the casualty becomes unconscious and stops breathing
Note: The routine administration of oxygen in persons with a suspected heart attack is not advised.
Angina is a symptom of a condition called myocardial ischemia. Basically put, this means that the heart muscles are receiving inadequate blood flow and hence inadequate oxygen for the amount of work the heart is doing at a particular time.
This is due to a disease of the coronary arteries called atherosclerosis (fatty deposits causing hardening and narrowing of the artery lumen). At rest, a casualty will have no symptoms. This is because although the arteries are narrowed, the heart does not require a lot of blood at rest anyway. Angina occurs during physical or emotional excitement when the heart starts beating faster requiring more oxygen.
Signs and Symptoms:
- The same as heart attack symptoms, although generally not as severe
- Symptoms will subside when the heart slows down or the casualty takes any medications prescribed for their angina
- The casualty may tell you that they know they have angina
- Stop exercise / physical exertion. Advise the casualty to relax
- Keep casualty calm
- Assist casualties to take any medication they have been prescribed by their doctor (normally Anginine, nitro-glycerine tablets or spray)
- Monitor DRS ABCD
- If pain persists for more than 10-15 minutes, call 000 / 112 (as this could be a sign of a heart attack)
Cardiac arrest is the cessation of effective blood circulation due to the sudden loss of normal heart function.
Note that a heart attack and a cardiac arrest are not the same. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart and at times may cause a cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and stops working properly, often resulting in death. This may be caused by abnormal, or irregular, heart rhythms (called arrhythmias).
A common arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation – refer to the image
Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency and requires an immediate response.
Signs and Symptoms:
- May occur without prior warning
- A slow or racing heartbeat
- Fainting, dizziness, blackouts
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath, weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
Treatment was addressed in training module 3: Chain of Survival