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Surviving a heart attack: Two of the most dangerous mistakes

Heart attack

REDFEB aims to raise awareness for heart disease and funds for life-saving research. This February, in addition to encouraging people to wear red and donate, Heart Research Australia is promoting an important Heart Smart pocket guide that could save lives.

“Heart disease is Australia’s number one killer, but it is surprising how little people know about the signs of a heart attack and what is critical to do in the moment,” says Nicci Dent, CEO of Heart Research Australia. “Each day, an average of 20 Australians die from a heart attack. An Australian suffers a heart attack every 10 minutes.”

“That is why this REDFEB, in addition to encouraging people to wear red and donate to life-saving research, we are promoting an important free Heart Smart pocket guide. The 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,” says Ms Dent.

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,” continued Ms Dent.

Two of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes people make about heart attacks is 1) assuming the signs are the same for everyone and 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.  That’s why we strongly recommend calling 000 – as information can be given over the phone, and ambulance workers can start working on you straight away,” says Ms Dent.

1.     Assuming heart attack symptoms are the same for everyone

“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, says Cardiologist Dr Rebecca Kozor.

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

“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.

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.

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 visit

“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,” continued Ms Dent.

This February, Heart Research Australia invites 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. This year, Zoll defibrillators will generously donate two defibrillators to the organisation and individual that raises the most funds for Heart Research Australia.

For more information on REDFEB and to donate, please visit:

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