How to tell when something is wrong with your ticker

One in 20 Australians will die of heart disease. Here’s how to spot the signs and reduce your risk.

Heart disease is the number one killer of Australians, with one Aussie admitted to hospital experiencing a heart attack every nine minutes.

RedFeb – an awareness month organised by Heart Research Australia – aims to raise awareness of the different ways heart disease can present and what you can do to minimise you risk.

What are the common signs of heart attack?

Chest discomfort and possibly referred pain down the left arm and into the jaw are common indicators of a possible heart attack.

But cardiologist Dr Andris Ellims says that may not be the experience for all patients.

“It might be only 50 per cent of patients describe a central chest discomfort, sometimes like a heavy pressure or a weight, and sometimes you can get involvement down your left arm and sometimes up to the centre of the jaw,” he tells The House of Wellness TV.

“We’ve seen jaw pain, arm pain by itself, but classically, all together – chest, arm, jaw pain, that’s the classic description – but not always.”

Other symptoms people may experience include dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint or anxious, nausea, indigestion, vomiting, shortness of breath, and sweating.

A heart event may also present differently for men than for women.

Dr Ellims says being aware of the possible symptoms of a heart attack gives people greater opportunity to act quickly and seek medical treatment.

He says the Heart Smart Pocket Guide fits easily into your wallet, provides a complete list of symptoms and recommended responses and is available free from Heart Research Australia.

Heart disease outcomes ‘worse for women’

While many people associate heart disease as something that mostly impacts middle-aged men, it can and does affect women – and with worse outcomes, says Dr Ellims.

Heart disease is more likely to go undetected in females, as the warning signs of a heart event may develop at a much later stage for women, and can often be vague or non-specific, while some diagnostic tests are less accurate in women.

“Women don’t recognise the symptoms as being heart related; even when they come to hospital we may not be as quick to take someone to the angiogram suite to open up a blocked artery,” Dr Ellims says.

What to do if you suspect a heart attack

If you think you or someone you’re with is experiencing heart attack you need to act quickly and call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance and immediate assistance.

An operator will advise on what to do while you wait for an ambulance, and paramedics can commence lifesaving treatment as soon as they arrive and continue on route to a hospital.

This is vital as the quicker treatment can be started, the less damage the heart muscle will sustain.

“If you can be aware of the possible symptoms that are there, if there’s no other explanation, you’ve got to call Triple Zero (000) early,” Dr Ellims says.

“We just don’t want to hear about family members who waited, something bad’s happened at home, and you can’t go back and make that choice again.”

Understand your risk of heart disease

Dr Ellims says it’s important everyone is aware of their individual risk factors for heart disease as well as the signs.

“One of the problems with heart disease, is you can have no symptoms whatsoever, have a sudden heart attack which is a blocked artery that occurs within seconds, and then you can have a cardiac arrest and that can be game over.”

He recommends all adults have a discussion with their GP about their family history and potential risk factors, and manage them accordingly.

How to look after your heart

Keeping your heart in top order is the best way to reduce your risk of experiencing a heart event.

Dr Ellims says the best way to do this is by being proactive with your health.

“You’ve got to take responsibility for your risk factors,” he says.

“If you don’t get your blood pressure checked, if you don’t get your cholesterol checked, if you don’t stop smoking, how’re you going to do the things you need to prevent heart disease in the future?”

The Heart Foundation suggests the following tips to reduce your risk of heart disease.

  • Quit smoking: This damages blood vessels to your heart and makes you three times more like to die of heart attack.
  • Eat a healthy diet: What you eat can impact risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and weight. A healthy diet is low in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar and rich in wholegrains, fibre, vitamins and healthy fats. Read more about the veggies you need for a healthy heart.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity cuts your risk of heart attack and helps control risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight.
  • Drink less alcohol: Excess alcohol can increase heart rate, blood pressure and weaken your heart muscle.
  • Maintain healthy weight: Being overweight can increase risk of heart disease as it is associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and fatty build-up in your arteries.

Written by Claire Burke.

Tune into The House of Wellness TV show Fridays at 2pm and Sundays at 12pm on Channel 7 to see Luke Darcy, Jo Stanley and Luke Hines deliver the latest in health and wellbeing news, trends and advice.