Heart Attack

Heart disease and diseases of the circulatory system are the leading cause of death in the UK, with one third of all deaths occurring from cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the largest cause of death within this group, mostly due to myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. It carries a high mortality, with 50% of heart attack patients dying within 28 days, and 75% of these deaths occurring within the first 24 hours. There are frequently no warning signs that a patient has cardiovascular disease, and a heart attack may be the first symptom and occur completely out of the blue.

Furring up of the arteries (atheroma) develops over many years and can occur both suddenly and gradually:

Gradual progression of the furring up process typically causes angina; however, another manifestation of the same disease process is a myocardial infarction. In the majority of cases an area of atheroma suddenly ruptures, exposing the undersurface of the artery lining and provoking an injury response, whereby a clot begins to form over the damaged area. If the clot is large enough it can block the artery entirely and this is the substrate for a heart attack.

In most cases this is unheralded and is often the first indication that a patient has a heart problem, hence the importance of screening in medium and high risk populations. Sometimes a patient will have had angina symptoms which suddenly intensify such that chest discomfort develops with diminishing levels of exercise and is ultimately present at rest.

Most survivors describe a heart attack as an intense discomfort and heaviness in the chest, like an elephant sitting on the chest, associated with sweating, nausea and breathlessness. This is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment, known as primary angioplasty, where a stent is inserted to unblock the artery, to restore the blood supply to the heart and minimise damage to the heart muscle. During a heart attack, the heart muscle that received its blood supply from the affected artery will die, healing with time to leave a scar. The larger the scar, the greater the effect on the remaining healthy heart muscle, and the less effectively the heart will work in the future.

Related links:

Symptoms - Chest Pain

Chest pain has a variety of causes, one of the most important of course being pain from the heart. Read more

Conditions - High Cholesterol

Doctors tend to test a patient’s cholesterol level from time to time because there is a documented link between high cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Read more

Conditions - Coronary Artery Disease and


Coronary artery disease is the term given to soft fatty deposits or hard calcified plaques within one or more of the coronary arteries, the vessels which supply blood to the heart. Read more

Tests - Coronary Angiogram

Coronary angiography, also called cardiac catheterisation, is a sophisticated test undertaken by an interventional cardiologist as a day case in hospital. Read more

Treatments - Coronary Angioplasty/Stent

Coronary angioplasty/stenting, also called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or the balloon and stent procedure, is a treatment used to deal with tight narrowings in the coronary arteries that are affecting the blood supply to the heart. Read more

Scroll to Top