Coronary heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the UK, claiming in excess of 73,000 lives each year - so you'd think we'd all be pretty clued-up on heart health and on how to deal with a heart attack by now. Unfortunately there are certain persistent myths around the subject, so read on for some facts that could save your or somebody else's life...
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1. Cardiac arrest is another term for heart attack
Cardiac arrest and heart attack are fundamentally different health issues, although both can prove deadly and should be treated as a medical emergency. A heart attack is caused when coronary arteries become blocked and blood is unable to reach the heart, to be pumped around the body. A heart attack victim will probably still be conscious and should be kept calm as you call 999.
Cardiac arrest can follow a heart attack, but it refers to cases where the heart stops pumping blood around the body – causing an inability to breathe normally. Victims will be unconscious and you should call 999 and then attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
2. Coughing during a heart attack can save your life
Following on from myth number one, there has been misleading information shared over the internet advising people to use "cough CPR" if they think they're having a heart attack. It was claimed that making yourself cough vigorously if alone following a suspected heart attack could save your life.
However CPR would only be required if the heart attack had been followed by cardiac arrest – and in that case the victim would be unconscious. If you are alone and think you've had a heart attack, call 999 immediately.
3. It will be obvious if you're having a heart attack
We've all seen TV and movie scenes where heart attack sufferers clutch their chest in pain and fall to their knees, so we know what it'll be like if we have one, don't we? Well no actually, because a heart attack can be accompanied by surprisingly subtle symptoms.
Chest pain or discomfort IS a common symptom of course, but other signs that you may be having a heart attack include shortness of breath, nausea, feeling light-headed, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, in the jaw, the neck or the back.
4. Women are at low risk of heart attack
It's well known that men are at higher risk of death from coronary heart disease than women, partly thanks to lifestyle issues and party due to genetic factors. However it's not so well known that heart disease is still the second-biggest cause of death among women in the UK, claiming more than 25,000 lives each year. Coronary heart disease kills twice as many women as breast cancer – so don't put off making those lifestyle changes.
5. Heart failure is the same as a heart attack
You could be forgiven for thinking that heart failure was simply another term for a heart attack (or even cardiac arrest), but it's actually a separate medical condition. It usually involves a gradual deterioration of the heart's performance over a long period of time, due to the organ becoming too stiff or weak.
Shortness of breath and fatigue are the tell-tale signs of the heart struggling to pump blood around the body – along with swollen feet, stomach, ankles and the lower back. It can occur without prior heart problems, or following a heart attack in which damage was caused to the heart.