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What is a Heart Attack

Heart attack is usually caused by the sudden decrease of blood flow to one of the major arteries of the heart. It is often the result of coronary plaque rupture caused by the build-up of cholesterol and fat in the arterial wall.

heart anatomy with labels

Cardiologist in Cambridge

This reduction in blood flow can be either complete or partial. If the clot formation results in complete blockage of the artery, the part of the heart muscle supplied by the affected artery will suffer from what we term “acute ischemia”. This usually manifests as chest pain at rest which fails to resolve quickly and requires emergent medical attention. Treatment aims to restore blood flow as quickly as possible and is usually achieved by clot busting medications or the insertion of one or more stents.


Occasionally, the ‘acute ischaemic’ damage to the heart muscle will result in electrical instability; this can then progress to cardiac arrest necessitating the use of shock delivered through a defibrillator. It is, therefore, vital to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and seek immediate help by contacting emergency services.

What are these symptoms? These can vary in their nature although typically occur suddenly, out of the blue and often last more than 30 minutes. They can be experienced as chest pain, chest discomfort, arm pain, headache, back pain and, not uncommonly, can resemble indigestion. Patients often describe feeling as if someone is squeezing or sitting on their chest. Sweating, breathlessness and nausea may also occur.

So, how would you recognise whether symptoms like indigestion, heartburn, nausea, light-headedness or chest discomfort are the result of a heart attack and therefore needing immediate help?

At the Cambridge Cardiology Clinic we advise our patients to be mindful of symptoms which feel unusual for them especially if these persist and share some of the characteristics described above. Suffering a heart attack, which is not treated promptly, can result in long-term adverse effects such as heart failure and, therefore, it is always important to seek medical advice if you are concerned.

At the Cambridge Cardiology Clinic, a consultation with one of our cardiology consultants can help you go through your symptoms and guide further investigations, and treatment, if required.

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