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Questions and answers aboutheart attacks

Here are some questions people often ask. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please feel free to email us at firstaid@redcross.org.uk or use this form.

Q

What is a heart attack?

Answer
Answer

A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked. The blockage means the heart can’t work effectively.

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Q

How can I tell if someone is having a heart attack?

Answer
Answer

The symptoms of a heart attack can vary but may include:

  • persistent, vice-like chest pain, which may spread to their arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • breathlessness
  • feeling unwell
  • sweating.
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Q

What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

Answer
Answer

A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle is blocked. The blockage means the heart can’t work effectively. 

A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops completely, causing the person to collapse, become unresponsive and stop breathing.

A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest.   

Find out how to help someone who’s unresponsive and not breathing.

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Q

Can I give them aspirin?

Answer
Answer

You can offer the person an aspirin tablet to chew slowly, as this will help thin their blood. They should not take more than 300mg in one dose.

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Q

What if the person has medication to use?

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Answer

If they have tablets or a spray, let them take it. You may need to help them.

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Q

What is angina?

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Answer

Angina is a tight feeling in the chest. It occurs when the arteries narrow, restricting the blood supply to the heart. It is often associated with exercise or excitement. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath but, unlike a heart attack, symptoms ease with rest and taking prescribed medication.


Most people diagnosed with angina manage their condition with medication that comes in tablet or spray form. If, during an angina attack, the pain doesn’t subside after the second dose of their medication, suspect a heart attack and call 999 immediately.

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Q

What should I do if they become unresponsive?

Answer
Answer

Find out how to help someone who is unresponsive and breathing.

Find out how to help someone who is unresponsive and not breathing.


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