Heart Attack


An Article by Worsley Training – First Aid Training in and around Wiltshire


A Heart attack occurs when there is a sudden blockage of the blood supply to the heart, usually caused by a clot from the build-up of fatty deposits in the coronary arteries.

The location of the blockage in the heart will determine how much of the heart muscle gets starved of oxygen and therefore damaged. This then dictates the outcome for the casualty. They may be still conscious and breathing (minor heart attack) or unconscious and not breathing (major heart attack).

Minor heart attack

The signs and symptoms of a minor heart attack vary but may include:

  • Crushing central chest pain (not to be confused with indigestion) which can radiate up to their jaw, down their left arm or their back (sometimes only minor or none at all, especially in women and older people)
  • Shortness of breath and tightening of the chest
  • Feeling weak, lightheaded or nauseous
  • Face going grey and sweaty
  • A ‘sense of impending doom’

Always call 999 and whilst waiting for the paramedics, sit them down in the W position so leaning back against a wall with their knees bent up, and give them 300mg aspirin to chew (maybe 1, 2 or 4 tablets so check the packet) to help thin the blood. However, do check that they are not allergic to aspirin before administering it.

Major heart attack

A major heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest, where the heart stops pumping effectively, so they need immediate CPR and a defibrillator.

These are 2 links in the Chain of Survival – a series of steps which if performed quickly in the right order give the best chance of survival from a cardiac arrest when not in a hospital. If you start CPR within 2 minutes, place a defibrillator on their chest in 4 minutes and a paramedic arrives in 8 minutes, then they have a 40% chance of survival.

  1. Early recognition & call for help: when a casualty is not breathing normally get someone to call 999 (or 112 if overseas). If there is a public defibrillator nearby send for that too.
  2. Early CPR: to buy life-saving time by pumping oxygenated blood around their body until a defibrillator arrives.
  3. Early defibrillation: for every minute the patient doesn’t have a defibrillator attached to their chest, their chances of survival reduce by 7-10%.
  4. Post-resuscitation care: is delivered by Paramedics and includes the administration of medicines and advanced airway procedures, prior to the arrival of the patient at hospital.

Like any chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so if one stage is poor the chances of successful resuscitation are compromised. To be prepared it’s always best to attend a first aid course, as it’s better to have the skills and not need them than the alternative, but also remember that if someone is having a cardiac arrest, anything that you do is better than nothing.


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