In the UK there are over 200,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks: that’s 1 every 3 minutes.

Surviving heart attacks

However, the outlook for surviving heart attacks and recovery is improving. In the 1960’s more than 7 out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal. These days at least 7 out of 10 people survive.

There are an estimated 1 million people alive in the UK today who have survived a heart attack.

Latest figures from British Heart Foundation shows in the course of one day in the UK:

420 people will lose their lives to CVD (Cardiovascular disease)

of these more than 110 people will be younger than 75

7 million people are living with CVD

540 hospital visits will be due to a heart attack

180 people will die from coronary heart disease

12 babies will be diagnosed with a heart defect

What’s a heart attack?

A heart attack is when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. The heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply and, if left untreated, will begin to die because it is not getting enough oxygen. If you are having a heart attack you will be conscious.

What’s cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body and they stop breathing normally. If you are in cardiac arrest you will be unconscious and need to receive CPR immediately. Use a defibrillator and call an ambulance to give them a chance of recovery.

What is angina?

Angina is discomfort caused by heart muscle complaining due to a reduced blood supply as blood tries to force its way through a narrowed artery.

Heart attack out of hospital

More than 30,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests (when the heart stops beating sufficiently) occur in the UK every year. Many people will be on their own when they have a heart attack. It is vital to know how to help yourself if you are alone and think you’re having a heart attack. To read our article click here:

Know the warning signs off by heart

The symptoms of heart attacks vary widely. They differ between individuals, but also between men and women.

A heart attack can come on suddenly and be intense. Or it can start slowly and be mild. Some patients don’t experience any pain. Some people mistake a heart attack for indigestion or angina.

Severe chest pain

Those experiencing severe chest pain are more likely to call 999. Those experiencing less serious symptoms, don’t always seek immediate medical attention. However, responding rapidly when you suspect a heart attack can greatly improve your chances for survival and avoiding serious heart damage.

If you are uneasy about any symptoms, if you have symptoms bought on by exercise or exertion, or if you are woken up by symptoms or they come on at rest – you should always quickly seek medical help.

 Classic heart attack symptoms

The classic symptom of a heart attack is pain in the chest, especially in the centre, that lasts for a few minutes and comes and goes. This discomfort may feel like pressure, tightness, squeezing, or an aching sensation. The pain can radiate into the neck, arms, back, jaw, or stomach. It can manifest as pain or a general discomfort.

Chest pain

Men often experience a heart attack as chest pain.

However, post-menopausal women and anyone who is diabetic are far less likely to experience chest pain.

Whatever your symptoms, you will probably feel extremely unwell and are likely to be pale, clammy and light headed – listen to those symptoms and phone for help quickly.

Non-classical heart attack symptoms

Post-menopausal women, the elderly and those suffering from diabetes are more likely to suffer from non-classical heart attack symptoms. These include:

Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain

Shortness of breath

Breaking out in a sweat

Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

How is a heart attack diagnosed?

When the ambulance team arrive they will do a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG) to see if a heart attack is causing your symptoms.

The involves attaching sticky electrodes on your arms, legs and chest. These are wired to a machine to record the electrical impulses in your heart. It’s these electrical impulses that make your heart pump. The paramedics may be able to diagnose if you’re having a heart attack from the specific changes that are seen on your ECG results. However, this must be done quickly so it doesn’t hold up your transfer to hospital.


Paramedics are trained to treat those suffering from heart attacks. They will quickly transfer you to hospital for treatment for the type of heart attack you have had. Each minute is vital to preventing long-term heart damage.

You may need further tests to diagnose a heart attack if the ECG isn’t conclusive.

What treatment will I need?

If you have a heart attack it is vital to have treatment as soon as possible.

Early treatment can restore the blood flow to the damaged part of your heart muscle and can save your life. It can also limit the amount of permanent damage to your heart muscle.

Many people who have a heart attack need emergency treatment to unblock the coronary artery. This could be:

primary angioplasty – a procedure to re-open the blocked coronary artery and usually by inserting stents (tiny tubes) to help keep the narrowed artery open.

thrombolysis – medicine which dissolves the blood clot blocking the coronary artery.


You will usually stay in hospital for about two to five days, depending on what treatment you have had and how well you begin to recover.

Will it happen again?

Unfortunately having one heart attack does increase the risk of having another. However this risk is greatly reduced with the correct treatment. And, if you take the medicines your doctors have prescribed for you and follow a healthy lifestyle, you can significantly reduce your risk.

Cardiac rehab

If you have had a heart attack you are usually referred to a cardiac rehabilitation service if there is one locally. Here you will receive specialist advice, support and physical activity.

Cardiac rehab is a mix of exercise, education, relaxation and psychological support. It aims to help you recover and get back to living your life as fully as possible.

Ways to decrease your risk of having a heart attack

The World Health Organisation cites eight risk key factors: alcohol use, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity. These account for a whopping 61% of all cardiovascular deaths and over three quarters of all CHD, making this the leading cause of death worldwide. Stress also plays a role.

Not all heart attack risk factors are in our control; such as ageing, heredity and gender – men are still at higher risk.

Reduce your risk

Fortunately, there are some factors you can control to reduce your risk of having a heart attack:

  • Stop smoking and minimize exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Control high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure by making changes to your diet, lose weight, take medication.
  • Take daily exercise.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Monitor your weight and try and lose weight if you’re overweight or obese.
  • Diabetics should manage their blood sugar and stick to their treatment plans.
  • Reduce stress in your life with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or yoga or try talking therapies.

To read our article on how to help yourself if you have a heart attack on your own click here

To read more about screening for sudden heart attacks in the young click here

It is strongly advised that you complete an online or attend a practical or online first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Click here or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made or actions taken based on this information.