Heart attacks usually happen when arteries supplying blood to the heart become narrowed, blocking the flow. There are usually warning signs of an impending heart attack, but it can come on suddenly. The most common symptom is angina (chest pain), which feels like a heavy, aching, burning or squeezing pressure in your chest – and which can sometimes be mistaken for indigestion.
Angina can also affect other parts of the body – including the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back. A further symptom of heart disease is a heart attack after a heavy meal.
Other symptoms of heart disease include: shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, a quicker heartbeat, dizziness or nausea, or sweating.
If your doctor suspects you may have coronary heart disease, he or she may suggest you have an angiogram, which is known as the gold standard of coronary heart tests as it is able to pinpoint accurately both the location and extent of damage to the coronary arteries. The test will indicate whether you could benefit from further medical procedures. It may also be used if you have had a heart attack, or have been treated for a heart clot, and are experiencing further problems.
A coronary angiogram is a special x-ray test in which a dye is injected into the coronary arteries through your groin or arm in order to see if there are any blockages. The arteries can get clogged with fat cells or a hard material called plaque. If the arteries get blocked, it affects the flow of blood to your heart and can ultimately lead to a heart attack. If the angiogram reveals these problems there are further procedures that can be carried out to ease the condition, such as heart stenting or bypass surgery.
An angiogram takes about half an hour and you remain fully awake while it’s being carried out – you can even watch what’s happening on the screen in front of you. Afterwards you’ll need to rest for a few hours.
What can I do if I have a heart attack?
Spotting the early warning signs mean you know when to get help fast. Apart from the most common symptoms, mentioned above, they can vary from person to person and can come on slowly, rather than as a sudden intense pain.
Seeing a cardiologist for tests is the best course of action if your symptoms are mild, but if they are severe you need to head to the hospital straight away. Dial 995 for an ambulance or ask someone to drive you to the emergency department. If you have a history of heart problems, let your cardiologist know you are heading to the hospital.
Am I at risk?
How do you know if you are at risk? Heart attack symptoms might not show up until it’s too late, so protect yourself by reducing risk factors.
Find out some of the medical procedures available should you need to undergo heart treatment. For your peace of mind, talk to a heart specialist or read about how to make healthcare insurance claims to cover your hospital bills.