What is a Heart Attack?

A Myocardial Infarction, commonly referred to as a ‘heart attack’, occurs when the muscles of the heart do not get enough oxygen. This usually happens because of ‘plaque’ build up in the blood vessels which supply the muscles of the heart. As plaque builds up in these blood vessels, there is less room for blood to get through to the muscle, and therefore the muscle does not get the oxygen it needs (especially when you are exerting yourself, when the heart needs increased amount of oxygen). If the muscle does not get enough oxygen for an extended period of time it will die, leading to a Myocardial Infarct (or “heart attack”)

Am I At Risk of a Heart Attack?

There are a number of factors which can increase your risk of a heart attack. Some risk factors you cannot change, such as:

  • Age: As you get older, your risk of a heart attack increases. In particular, males over 55 and women over 60 are at increased risk.

  • Sex: men are more likely to have heart attacks than women

  • Genetics: if someone in your family has had a heart attack, you are at increased risk of having a heart attack.

However, there are some factors which you can change, and it may be worth discussing with your doctor how you can decrease your risk of a heart attack:

  • Smoking: smoking has been shown to cause plaque build-up, and heart disease is the most common cause of death in smokers

  • High cholesterol: having high cholesterol can also cause plaque build-up, this can be managed with medication and a healthy diet

  • High blood pressure: make sure you get your blood pressure regularly monitored as you get older

  • Diabetes: diabetes can increase your risk of a heart attack, it is important that if you have diabetes it is well-controlled.

  • Being inactive, overweight or having an unhealthy diet: these can all independently increase your risk

  • Stress and depression: psychological factors have also been shown to increase your risk of a heart attack, so if you are struggling mentally it is important to also bring this up with your doctor.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

The typical features of a heart attack include:

  • Central, dull crushing/heavy chest pain

  • Pain may also be felt in the neck, jaw or left arm

  • Shortness of breath

  • Feeling light-headed/fainting

  • Sweating

  • Nausea/vomiting

What should I do if I think I’m having a heart attack?

If you have symptoms like the ones above which do not resolve after a few minutes, it is critically important that you get to your local hospital’s Emergency Department as soon as possible (do not go to the GP!). They will be able diagnose a heart attack with an ECG (a machine that measure the heart’s electrical activity) and some blood tests, and then will be able to provide proper medical care for you.

Sometimes, you can have symptoms like the ones above that resolve fairly quickly. These commonly occur when we are exerting ourselves, but can occur when we are resting. If you are getting these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor either at the Emergency Department or at your local GP. This is called ‘angina’ and is a warning sign that you are at increased risk of a heart attack.

If you have not had any symptoms like this yet but are worried about your risk of a heart attack, consider visiting your GP and discussing how you can change aspects of your lifestyle to reduce your risk!

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors by booking online or contacting us by phone on 8269 6000.


The Heart Foundation. 2018. What causes a heart attack? [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/know-your-risks/heart-attack-risk-factors. [Accessed 20 April 2018].

The Heart Foundation. 2018. Heart attack symptoms and signs  [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/heart-attack-symptoms. [Accessed 20 April 2018].

Medscape. 2018. Myocardial Infarction: Practice Essentials, Background, Definitions. [ONLINE] Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/155919-overview. [Accessed 20 April 2018]

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