How to recognise a heart attack and stroke

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How to recognise a heart attackWhen someone is having a heart attack or stroke it’s vital that you recognise what is happening so that you can act fast.

How to recognise a heart attack

Watch out for the following, but be aware that symptoms vary from person to person.
Heavy pressure, tightness, crushing pain or unusual discomfort in the centre of the chest.
This may feel like indigestion and the pain could spread to your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, teeth, belly area or back. The pain usually lasts longer than 20 minutes. It may stop or weaken and then return.
Sweating, nausea, faintness or shortness of breath may develop.
There may be a rapid, weak pulse.

Act immediately if these symptoms occur. Call an ambulance because medical help is most important in the first few hours after an attack. Get the patient to rest quietly – sitting up if they’re breathless and lying down if they’re feeling faint. CPR may be necessary.

The elderly, people with diabetes and women tend not to have the classic tightness, discomfort or pain in the chest. Women, in particular, may have a range of sensations, including:
An uneasy feeling in the chest
Abdominal pain
A fluttering heartbeat
Shortness of breath
Dizziness and/or fainting

These symptoms can easily be dismissed as a stomach bug, even hunger. An indication that there’s something more serious wrong is if symptoms get worse when the heart is put under stress, such as during exercise.

How to recognise a stroke

Look out for SUDDEN:
Weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg on one side of the body
Loss of speech, or difficulty speaking or understanding speech
Trouble seeing from one or both eyes
Unexplained dizziness
Loss of balance or difficulty walking
Severe and unusual headache

Remember this easy, FAST mnemonic to help you in an emergency:
Face – SMILE. Is one side droopy?
Arms – RAISE BOTH. Is one side weak?
Speech – SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE. Is it slurred? Impossible or difficult?
Time – Lost time could mean loss of brain. Get to hospital FAST.

If a person has one or more of these symptoms, get immediate medical attention – it is most vital in the first few hours. If the patient becomes unconscious, call an ambulance immediately.

TIA – a vital warning sign

About 10 percent of strokes are preceded by temporary or mini strokes, referred to as transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs). They have the same symptoms as a stroke, but are less severe and are temporary, lasting from only a few minutes to a few hours. There is no long-term damage to the brain.
Do not ignore this warning sign – it could indicate a future stroke. Prompt medical attention can prevent a fatal or disabling stroke.

TOMORROW: Factors that increase your risk for heart disease

This article originally appeared in Heart magazine, for the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA

Know your heart
Know your heart Know your heart Know your heart
Know your heart Know your heart

Written by

Gillian Warren-Brown has worked as a journalist just about forever and is the co-author of 'Cape Town Uncovered – a people’s city'. She is a keen traveller and enjoys nothing more than hiking in the mountains (camera in hand), exploring shelters for rock art and Stone-age tools. She is also a dancer and instructor of the Nia Technique – a fitness fusion of dance and martial arts styles.

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  1. Sam

    Useful info. One should always be prepared.

    6 years ago •

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