Heart Attack – Vital Signs and First Aid

Posted by Johanna Verheijen on April 09, 2020

A person experiences a heart attack when there is a sudden partial or complete blockage of one of the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle. As a result of the interruption to the blood supply, there is an immediate risk of life-threatening changes to the heart rhythm. If not corrected quickly there is also a risk of serious, permanent heart muscle damage.

To reduce the chance of sudden death from heart attack, urgent medical care is required – “every minute counts”.

Heart attack is different from, but may lead to, cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest usually results from an electrical disturbance in the heart. For some victims, sudden cardiac arrest may occur as the first sign of heart attack – however most experience some warning signs. It is important to note:

•         a heart attack can occur in a patient without chest pain or discomfort as one of their symptoms

•         the most common symptom of heart attack in a victim without chest pain

•         is shortness of breath

•         a victim who experiences a heart attack may pass off their symptoms as ‘just indigestion’


Some people are more likely to describe unusual or minimal symptoms and may include:

• the elderly;

• women;

• persons with diabetes;

• Māori and Pacific Island people.

These people should seek urgent assessment by a health care professional if they have any warning signs of heart attack, no matter how mild.


Sign sand symptoms: Questions to ask

Do they feel any :

Pain pressure heaviness or tightness?

In one or more of their:

chest, neck, jaw, arms back or shoulders?

Do they feel:

Nauseous, cold sand sweaty, dizzy, or short of breath?


• STOP the patient from doing what they are doing and tell them to rest

• ASK them what they are feeling? 

If they take angina medicine:

• Take a dose of medicine

• Wait 5 minutes. Still has symptoms?

Take another dose of angina medicine

• Wait 5 minutes.


Still has symptoms?


If not • Are symptoms severe? • Getting worse quickly? • Have lasted for 10 minutes?


CALL 111


Administer aspirin (300 mg) if available

• Reassure patient

• Sit up if breathless

• Lie down if feeling dizzy


And stay with the person until the paramedics have arrived.


More information


• Heart Foundation (http://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/know-the-


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