Heart attack - a young persons guide

Written by: 
Monica Lalanda, an Emergency Medicine doctor. Monica is also a medical writer and illustrator

Serious illnesses usually affect the life of the whole family rather than just the patient. This is the case with a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. (also called a myocardial infarctionDeath of an area of heart muscle due to poor blood supply., or MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply.). An MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply. is usually caused by a small bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. clot in one of the arteries supplying bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. to the heart itself, cutting the bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. supply and sometimes damaging the heart muscleTissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement..

People who've had a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. usually need to make some changes to their lifestyle. They often feel a bit scared, anxious and even depressed - feelings often made worse by unfounded concerns. There are many things that you can do to support and help a relative that has just been through this. It is reassuring to know that most people who have had an MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply. make a full recovery and that by making some changes to their lives, they can even become fitter and healthier than before. [1]

The thought that a relative may have another heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction., and wondering what to do if it happens, can be the main worry for many young people. Knowing how to recognise an MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply. and knowing what to do if it happens can make a huge difference to its final outcome.

Helping with changes in lifestyle

Some ways that you can help include:

  • Try to remain optimistic and cheerful. Your relative has survived a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. and is home. This is a good reason to be happy and hopeful. Adults may tend to let fear become a new member of the family - don't join in!
  • Giving up smoking is the single most effective way to reduce the risk of having a further MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply., but giving up smoking is not easy. Having other smokers around makes it even harder. It might be a good time for all the smokers in the family to give up all together. It will be for an especially good cause this time!
  • Healthy eating reduces the chances of having another heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. by 50 per cent. Cooking different meals for different members of the family is not practical. Making family meals less fatty, by introducing more vegetables, fish and cereal-based food and cutting down on pies and fries might have a great long-term effect
  • A gradual increase in physical activity is very good for the heart after an MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply.. Walking with your grandfather to the shops rather than having him take a car everywhere could make a big difference.

How to recognise a heart attack

Most people who have already had a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. will recognise a repeat occurrence almost immediately. It generally feels like a very severe pain in the middle of the chest (the tie area) that makes the person automatically want to squeeze the area with his or her hand. The pain can travel up to the neck, shoulders and arms, too. It can make the chest feel tight.

A person having a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. usually looks unwell, sometimes pale and a bit sweaty. Breathing might seem a bit laborious. People often feel nauseous and may even vomit.

What to do if you think someone is having a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction.

  • Keep calm and in control. Remember that what you do can make a huge difference to your loved one. The sooner the person having the MIMyocardial infarction. Death of a segment of heart muscle, which follows interruption of its blood supply. gets medical attention, the less damage the heart suffers. Time is heart muscleTissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement.!
  • If your relative has already had a heart problem, he or she probably uses a spray or a tablet (GTN) under the upper lip or tongue to control the chest pain. Offer to find it. If it makes the pain go within a couple of minutes, maybe it is not a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. but anginaA central chest pain caused by insufficient oxygen supply to the heart.. (In anginaA central chest pain caused by insufficient oxygen supply to the heart. there is a temporary lack of bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. supply to the heart, but this does not cause lasting damage.) Make sure the person is not standing up when using the medicine, as the blood pressure can sometimes drop and make the user feel dizzy
  • If the pain doesn't improve very quickly, make the person comfortable on a sofa. Sitting up is better than lying down. Then call an ambulance. Speak clearly and slowly. Tell the operator that you think your relative is having a heart attackThe death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction.. Give your address, including the house number. Leave the phone free in case they need to call you back
  • Reassure your loved one that help is on the way. Keep him or her warm but don't give anything to eat or drink. You might want to give him or her an aspirin (300 mg) - aspirin can help to start dissolving the clot that is causing the damage. It is better to chew the tablet than to swallow it, as this speeds the rate at which it enters the bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. stream. Only give aspirin if you are confident that you can give the right medicine and the right dose, and that there is no reason why your relative should not take it. Don't forget to mention it to the ambulance crew
  • Your relative might be able to tell you where to find a discharge letter from the hospital, or a list of the medications he or she is using. Have it ready. Make a mental note of the time when the pain started. It will be very helpful for the doctors treating the patient
  • If you have first aid training and know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitationEmergency life support, with artificial respiration and cardiac massage. (CPR), stay with your relative in case this becomes necessary. Otherwise, if the house is difficult to spot or the house number is not easily visible, go out to the street to wait for the ambulance and wave to them when they are near. Avoiding any waste of time is a priority as it means less damage to the heart
  • The ambulance should arrive quite soon. When the crew take over, be prepared to find their activity a bit overwhelming. They will apply an oxygen mask to the patient's face, put some stickers onto his or her chest and attach a noisy heart monitor . They might put a needle into the patient's arm in order to give some stronger medicines.
References: 
  1. Link.