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Pain! You experienced a pain then suddenly… out of the blue… a heart attack!

Maybe the pain was severe but that doesn’t necessarily mean you had a ‘severe’ heart attack


Illness is often considered the unfortunate experience of others. Now that it has happened to you, you may find yourself thinking things like:

‘I don't believe it; it was only indigestion.'

'I've been well all my life. How could I have had a heart attack?'

'The pain was terrible. Will it return?'

'Will I lose my job or be unable to work?'

‘I had no pain, only tightness in my chest.'

After a heart attack some people imagine they may become an invalid and be unable to do any physical work. This may also be associated with feelings of weakness, self-doubt or fear of dying.

These feelings are temporary. This book will tell you about the various stages of recovery.


The common medical term for 'heart attack' is 'myocardial infarction'. It is also called:

A coronary

A coronary thrombosis

A coronary occlusion.

These terms all mean 'heart attack'.



Common symptoms include:

A heavy, tight or crushing pain or discomfort in the centre of the chest. This may spread to the arms, neck, jaw or back




Shortness of breath


occasionally loss of consciousness.

A heart attack rarely occurs without any of the above symptoms.

Physical Examination

A physical examination will involve checking:

Blood pressure

Heart sounds

Chest sounds.

Blood Tests

The heart muscle contains substances called 'enzymes' -injury releases these into the bloodstream. Laboratory tests of your blood will detect enzyme release.

Electrocardiograph (ECG)

Electrocardiographs may show some changes indicating that a heart attack has occurred by recording the electrical impulses travelling through the heart muscle.

Echo cardiograph

An echocardiograph is an ultrasound examination of the heart which detects abnormalities by recording the movement of the heart valves and chamber walls.

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray will outline the size of the heart and indicate if there is fluid on the lungs caused by injury to the heart.


Your heart is a muscular pump. This pump requires oxygen to work.

The right side of the heart receives unoxygenated blood from the body and pumps it through the lungs via the pulmonary artery. Carbon dioxide and other waste

products are breathed out via the pulmonary artery and oxygen is picked up by the blood.

The left side of the heart receives the blood full of oxygen from the lungs and pumps it out of the aorta (main artery) to the body.


Blood vessels called 'coronary arteries' supply oxygen to your heart muscle.

Three main coronary arteries lie on the surface of the heart and divide into smaller branches so that every portion of the heart is supplied with oxygen.

Three main coronary arteries are called the anterior, right and circumflex arteries. They originate from the aorta - the body's main artery.


Coronary heart disease develops when arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle become narrowed or obstructed and a part of the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen.

Atherosclerosis is the build-up over many years of fatty and other materials on the inner lining of an artery causing thickening, narrowing and reduction of blood flow.

The process of atherosclerosis usually begins early in life and progresses slowly over a lifetime. The rate of progress may be influenced by Risk Factors, which will be discussed later in the book.


Your heart attack occurred when adequate blood flow ceased temporarily in an artery narrowed by atherosclerosis. Because of this inadequate blood flow a small portion of heart muscle was injured and caused the pain you felt.

Blood flow can also be stopped by a blood clot or sudden spasm of a coronary artery.

The damage caused to the heart muscle when the blood flow temporarily stops is called a 'heart attack'.


As with other injuries to the body the injured part of the heart will heal but requires time to do so. A very strong and tough scar will form. In addition, blood supply to the area around the injury will improve by enlargement of existing arteries and formation of new branches. These new branches are called 'collaterals'.