Coping with a heart attack

A heart attack is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. If you think you or a loved one is having a heart attack you should call 999 immediately.

Most of the time medical professionals diagnose heart attacks correctly, but when they don’t it can lead to serious damage or even death. A misdiagnosis of this kind could be medical negligence and could mean you are entitled to compensation.

What causes a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked so the heart is unable to get oxygen. If this isn’t treated quickly the heart muscle fails to pump and begins to die. Heart attacks mainly occur as a result of coronary heart disease (CHD).

There are a number of factors that make it more likely an individual will develop CHD. Major factors that can be controlled include smoking, being overweight, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical exercise. Risk factors that can’t be controlled include a family history of heart disease and increasing age.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, but that is by no means the only sign. The symptoms vary from person to person. Some have very few symptoms and are surprised when they later learn they have previously suffered a heart attack.

Some of the more common symptoms for heart attacks are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or heaviness in your chest
  • Feeling sick, sweaty, lightheaded or short of breath
  • A sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
  • Excessive coughing or wheezing due to a build up of fluid in the lungs

Although chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom in women having a heart attack, they are also more likely than men to experience other symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Jaw pain

What should you do if you think you are having a heart attack?

You should call 999 immediately. Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure if you are having a heart attack or not – the crucial thing is that you seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Next you should:

  • Sit down and rest
  • Take a 300mg aspirin if you have one close to hand
  • Stay calm and wait for paramedics

People have been known to not believe the fact they’re having a heart attack, leading to them delaying seeking medical attention. It’s vital not to be that person and that if you are with somebody who is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, make sure you call an ambulance for them as it could save their life.

What should you do if a heart attack is misdiagnosed?

If you do seek medical attention quickly but your doctor dismisses your heart attack as something else, this could have a huge and lasting impact on your health and life.

Heart attacks could be misdiagnosed as anxiety attacks, asthma and even gastrointestinal conditions. Women are more at risk of having a heart attack misdiagnosed as they may not know what the symptoms are and many doctors don’t immediately recognise them as being caused by a heart attack.

A misdiagnosis can lead to death or a poorer prognosis over time. This is why it’s important to take action when this happens to you.