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Heart Problems

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood around the body, which it does with the help of the thick-walled and muscular arteries and the other vessels of the circulatory system. The heart is controlled by regular electrical impulses that tell it when to contract. Like all other muscles, the heart needs its own blood supply and this is provided by the coronary (heart) arteries. When this blood supply fails to run smoothly, the body starts to experience problems, such as angina Pectoris (angina) and heart attack. Either of these may lead to the heart stopping (cardiac arrest).


Throughout life, arteries are clogging up with fatty deposits. As these fatty deposits cause the coronary and other arteries to become narrower, it becomes increasingly difficult for blood to flow around the body. The clogged coronary arteries can just about supply blood to the heart when it is pumping at a normal rate but when the heart rate speeds up the arteries cannot cope with the demand. This leads to an angina attack, a frightening, severe, crushing chest pain that acts as a warning to the casualty to calm down or to rest.

Signs and symptoms of angina

  • Evidence of recent exertion
  • Previous history of angina attacks
  • Gripping chest pain, often described by the sufferer as vice-like
  • Pain spreading up into the jaw or down into the left arm
  • Feeling of pins and needles down the arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Pale skin with possible blue tinges
  • Rapid, weak pulse

First Aid Treatment

  1. Sit the casualty down and reassure her. This reduces the demands being placed on the heart.
  2. Angina sufferers may have medicine that will help relieve an attack. This is often in the form of a puffer or a tablet that is placed under the tongue. The drug works by dilating the blood vessels, thereby increasing circulation to the heart. Help the casualty to take this medication.
  3. Call an ambulance if the pain does not appear to ease or if the casualty is not a known angina sufferer.
  4. If the casualty has regular attacks, listen to what she wants to do next.

Heart attack

If the coronary artery becomes completely blocked, the area of the heart being supplied by that particular blood vessel will be starved of oxygen and will eventually die. This blockage may be caused by a clot, a condition often referred to as a coronary thrombosis.

The development of advanced cardiac care in hospital and good post-hospital care means that heart attack patients have a good chance of making a full recovery. This is important information to remember when you are reassuring somebody having a heart attack.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack

These signs and symptoms are generally the same as those of angina - indeed, the patient may initially suffer an angina attack that becomes a heart attack. The key difference is that heart attacks do not always follow physical exertion. While angina sufferers will recover from their attack on resting, heart attack patients do not tend to improve without medical treatment.

First Aid Treatment

  1. Move the casualty into a semi-sitting position, head and shoulders supportedand knees bent, as this is generally the best position to breathe in.
  2. Reassure the casualty and do not let her move, as this will place an extra strain on the heart.
  3. Call for an ambulance as soon as possible because the casualty needs hospital care.
  4. If the casualty has angina medication, let her take this. If you have an ordinary aspirin, give her one to chew (without water).
  5. Keep a continual check on the breathing and pulse and be prepared to resuscitate if necessary.

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Disclaimer: website is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. Always take the advice of professional health care for specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. We will not be liable for any complications, or other medical accidents arising from the use of any information on this web site. Please note that medical information is constantly changing. Therefore some information may be out of date.