Heart attacks: warning signs, symptoms, and what to expect

Written by: Dr Andrew Deaner
Published: | Updated: 31/08/2023
Edited by: Conor Dunworth

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

Heart attack warning signs are actually nothing like what you’re used to seeing in films. You might expect severe pain, but actually many patients simply experience chest heaviness or discomfort, or pain in the arm, jaw, or back. Other signs include tightness in the throat, an uncomfortable feeling in the chest, and you may feel an ache in your left arm. You might feel cold, but notice that you are sweating considerably. Something is definitely wrong, and you should call 999 immediately.


What are the causes of a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart, through a coronary artery, is interrupted. Coronary arteries may become clogged by a build-up of cholesterol, which form deposits and can burst, causing a blood clot. This clot can block blood supply, which in turn triggers a heart attack.


Who is at risk from a heart attack?

Usually heart attacks affect older men, but women can experience heart attacks too; even at the age of 30 or 40. The risk of heart attack increases at age 45 for men, and usually after the menopause for women, so around the age of 55. Those who have a family history of heart attack are also more likely to be affected. There are factors you can’t control, but there are also risk factors we do have control over.
You are more at risk from heart attack if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have a high fat diet
  • Are overweight
  • Do not exercise or are physically inactive


What is the treatment for a heart attack?

After calling 999, the ambulance will arrive and the paramedics will quickly assess you. They will give you oxygen, aspirin, and insert an intravenous line into your arm to deliver drugs.
Once in hospital an immediate procedure called a coronary angioplasty is usually carried out. This removes the blockage through a suction tube placed into your artery. The blood clot is sucked out, restoring blood flow and providing immediate relief. The procedure can take as little as half an hour.


What is the recovery period for a heart attack?

Nowadays, a hospital stay after a heart attack lasts just a couple of days, providing there is no significant damage to your heart muscle. If the case is more complex, you will be kept in hospital for longer as you may need further procedures.
After a heart attack, you will feel tired and will have to monitor your activity, but you will be advised on what to be careful of - for example, when you can return to work or start driving again.


If you would like to book an appoint with Dr Andrew Deaner, you can do so today via his Top Doctors profile.

By Dr Andrew Deaner

Dr Andrew Deaner is one of London's leading cardiologists. With over 35 years' experience, his areas of expertise include angina, coronary artery disease, palpitations and heart failure. He also specialise in the treatment of pregnant women with heart disease.  

After graduating from the University of Leeds in 1987 having studied Medicine and undertaking further medical training at London Chest Hospital, he earned his first consultancy role as a consultant cardiologist at King George and the London Chest Hospitals in 1996.  

Dr Deaner’s private practice locations include Spire Roding and Spire Hartswood, based in London and Essex, which offer complete cardiology care. His NHS practice is based at Bart's Heart Centre, St Bartholomew's Hospital and King George Hospital. 
Dr Deaner is known for his role in the resuscitation and subsequent treatment of footballer Fabrice Muamba, whose heart stopped for 78 minutes during a match in 2012. He is actively involved in promoting CPR training of the general public and is heavily involved in educating junior doctors. He has previously served as president of the Cardiology Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and is currently vice-chair of the specialist advisory committee for general internal medicine, at the Royal College of Physicians. 

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