Heart attack or stroke: Act FAST to save a life

Knowing the signs and acting quickly is key if you suspect a loved one is having a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular disease affects a staggering one in six Aussies and kills one Australian every 12 minutes.

“Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in our country, with someone having a heart attack every 10 minutes,” says GP Dr Elana Gance. “For stroke, it’s every nine minutes, so they are really common.”

Warning signs of a heart attack

The well-known GP says the classic symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain often described as ‘feeling like an elephant sitting on your chest’ or a tight band constricting the chest area.

For others however there may be minimal pain or discomfort that feels like bad indigestion.

“You may feel short of breath, nauseous, have a cold sweat, feel dizzy or light-headed. Some people have also described feeling generally unwell or ‘not quite right’,” Dr Gance says.

“Everyone thinks this couldn’t happen to them but the statistics prove otherwise. Especially if you have risk factors such as family history, diabetes or are elderly or overweight.

“If you or your loved one has any chest pain, that is not getting better, or getting more severe after 10 minutes, you should act immediately.”

Symptoms of a stroke

Depending on the area of the brain that is not getting its blood supply, symptoms will be different, Dr Gance says.

The Stroke Foundation recommends the F.A.S.T. test as an easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke.

Face – Check their face. Has their mouth drooped? Is their smile even?

Arms – Can they lift both arms?

Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?

Time – Is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.

Think F.A.S.T., act FAST 

“A stroke is always a medical emergency,” Dr Gance explains. “The longer it remains untreated, the greater the chance of stroke-related brain damage.”

What should I do if I suspect someone is having a heart attack or stroke?

Time is critical.

“The longer you wait, the worse the damage and the greater the risk of death or permanent disability. Being suspicious is the key here,” Dr Gance warns.

  1. Be suspicious and act quickly.

Any unexplained chest pain needs investigating, especially if it lasts more than 10 minutes, is severe or getting worse.

  1. Remember the FAST acronym.

Face, Arms, Speech and Time Is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.

  1. Be extra cautious.

If the person has had a heart attack or stroke before or has cardiovascular risk factors. Act fast and save a life.

Reducing the risks of having a heart attack or stroke

Dr Gance says prevention is key, with maintaining a healthy diet and healthy weight having a big impact on the risk factors.

“People also need to watch their cholesterol and blood pressure, give up smoking and engage in some healthy activity,” she advises. “Even a 30-minute walk, five days a week will help.”

To keep your heart healthy, The Heart Foundation Australia recommends:

  • Go smoke-free
  • Manage your blood cholesterol
  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Manage diabetes
  • Be physically active
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Enjoy a variety of nutritious foods
  • Look after your mental health

Source: Heart Foundation

For more information, go to heartfoundation.org.au and strokefoundation.org.au