Surviving a heart attack: Two of the most dangerous mistakes

Heart disease is Australia’s number one killer, but unfortunately, there is little awareness about the signs of a heart attack and what is critical to do in the moment.

Each day, an average of 20 Australians die from a heart attack. An Australian suffers a heart attack every 10 minutes. [1] 

The Heart Research Australia free Heart Smart pocket guide is designed to fit in your wallet or pocket, and is a handy guide to heart attack symptoms and the recommended response in an emergency. By knowing and recognising the symptoms of a heart attack, you could help save someone’s life. Maybe even your own. 

Two dangerous mistakes people make about heart attacks 

Everyone should know how to recognise a heart attack for two very good reasons. Firstly, the odds are high that either you or someone you love will suffer from a heart attack during your lifetime. Secondly, whether you survive that heart attack can depend on what you and your doctors do about it during the first few hours.

Two of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes people make about heart attacks is:

1) assuming the signs are the same for everyone 

2) dismissing their symptoms and thinking they’ll just go away. That results in people not acting quickly enough.   

The longer people delay getting medical attention, the more potential damage is done to the heart muscle. Heart Research Australia strongly recommend calling 000 if you suspect you or someone nearby is having a heart attack as information can be given over the phone, and ambulance workers can start working on you straight away.

  1. Assuming heart attack symptoms are the same for everyone 

Cardiologist Dr Rebecca Kozor says many people assume that all heart attacks happen like in the movies – sudden and intense pain in the chest that causes someone to collapse. If that were the case, it would be easy to know when to go to the hospital. In reality, the signs can be less obvious and vary between individuals.

While chest pain is the classic symptom of a heart attack, other kinds of symptoms can occur in addition to, or instead of, chest discomfort. These may include: 

  • sweating,  
  • shortness of breath 
  • pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, or arms 
  • Nausea and vomiting,  
  • indigestion or heartburn-like symptoms 
  • Suddenly feeling dizzy,  weak, faint,  light-headed 

To read more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack click here.

“Women need to know about heart disease – sadly, it kills more Australian women than breast cancer. Chest pressure is still the leading complaint for women, however women experience different heart attack symptoms compared to men – they are more likely to also report nausea, sweating, vomiting, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or back,” says Dr Kozor. 

To read more about heart disease in women click here.

2. Dismissing symptoms and hoping they will go away. 

The number one factor that determines if a heart attack will be fatal? Time.  

“I cannot repeat this enough – every minute counts. If you’re having a heart attack, prompt medical attention may help protect your heart muscle from permanent damage and perhaps save your life,” says Dr Kozor. “If you have warning signs of a heart attack call triple zero immediately and ask for an ambulance.” 

“The longer the time without treatment, the more damage there can be to the heart muscle and this reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood. This can result in poor blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys, and can lead to heart failure,” continued Dr Kozor. “While you may have doubts about whether or not to call an ambulance, please do not hesitate. Sadly, many Australian deaths due to heart attack occur before the person gets to hospital or first medical contact.” 

Other advice includes: 

  • It is advised NOT to drive the patient to the hospital yourself, as you may need to perform CPR.  
  • Give the person an aspirin if you have any, unless they have been advised not to take this particular medication. 
  • Make sure they rest quietly while you wait for an ambulance. 
  • If an ambulance is not readily available (for example, in some rural areas), quickly notify the nearest hospital, health clinic or the person’s usual doctor for advice. 

To hear Dr Kozor talk about the signs of a heart attack with Chris Smith from 2GB click here.

FREE Heart Smart Pocket Guide 

For a pocket guide containing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack as well as an action plan that you can carry with you at all times click here.

The pocket guide is free to Australian residents, but any financial support towards our life-saving research will be gratefully received. The simple fact is that research saves lives, which is why Heart Research Australia funds world-class and emerging researchers to conduct ground-breaking research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.  

This February, we invite all Australians to wear RED for someone close to their heart to help keep families together for longer. Whether it’s a family member, wife, husband, or that special friend who means the world to them, or in memory of someone they loved who sadly passed away due to heart disease.  

To donate to help fund life-saving heart research click here.
To join our heart health club for expert advice, information and support that can assist in making lifestyle changes to improve your heart health click here.

[1] 3303.0 – Causes of Death, Australia, 2018. Australian Bureau of Statistics.