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Healthy hearts

Man with toy heart

All you need to know about heart attacks and cardiac arrests.

  • Do you know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?
  • Would you be able to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack in a family member, friend or work colleague?
  • If you came across someone in cardiac arrest, would you know what to do?

Find out the answers to these and other questions, along with downloads and video testimonies from patients who have experienced a heart attack or cardiac arrest, along with our staff in our emergency control rooms and ambulances who have responded to these incidents.

The key numbers

  • On average, at least two people a day across the four counties SCAS serves suffer a heart attack.
  • In the UK, around 30% of heart attacks are fatal (source: BHF)
  • On average, SCAS is called out to attend more than four patients a day across the four counties who have suffered a cardiac arrest
  • Across the UK, less than 1 in 10 people who have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital survive.

Heart attack

A heart attack happens when your heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich blood. The lack of blood damages the heart muscle and is life-threatening.

The symptoms of heart attack can vary from person to person and can include:

  • Chest pain – a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest
  • Pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm is affected, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
  • An overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)
  • Coughing or wheezing

Although the chest pain is often severe, some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion. In some cases there may not be any chest pain at all, especially in women, the elderly and people with diabetes.

What to do if you think, or someone you are with thinks, they are having a heart attack:

Watch ambulance dispatcher Leanne Bleasdale explain the correct way that you should call 999 for a suspected heart attack.

Watch heart attack patient Geoff Hartnell talk about the symptoms to look out in a typical heart attack situation. It just might save your life one day?

  • The overall pattern of symptoms will help determine whether a person is having a heart attack. Do not worry if you have any doubts – just dial 999
  • It is important to rest while you wait for an ambulance as this will reduce unnecessary strain on your heart
  • If you have aspirin to hand, and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-sized tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. The aspirin helps to thin your blood and restore blood supply to your heart

Cardiac arrest

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body.

Listen to call handler Sophie Robinson talk about the right thing to do if you suspect that someone is having a cardiac arrest.

Watch Peter Richardson, his wife Shelagh and good friend Glenys talk about the day that a heart stopping moment changed their lives forever.

The symptoms – If you find someone collapsed, not breathing normally and unresponsive, it is likely they are in cardiac arrest.

What to do if you find someone you think is in cardiac arrest:

1.     Call 999 for help

2.     Commence CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

3.     Use a public access defibrillator (PAD) or automatic external defibrillator (AED) if nearby

Currently in the UK, over 30,000 people a year suffer a cardiac arrest out of hospital. Less than 10% of those people survive.

Improving the survival rate figure for people suffering a cardiac arrest in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire is a major objective for SCAS.

CPR – Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

CPR is a first aid technique that can be used to keep someone alive until a paramedic or other emergency medical professional arrives at the scene. The most important actions are chest compressions to pump blood around the body, and rescue breaths to provide oxygen (known as the ‘kiss of life’).

Here is a short video that we made that shows just how easy it is to learn how to carry out effective CPR.

Myth Buster

MYTH: People get sued for trying CPR.

FACT: Although there are a few cases in the UK where a claim has been brought against a ‘rescuer’, there have been no reported cases where a victim has successfully sued someone who came to his aid in an emergency.

Watch Professor Charles Deakin explain about the benefits of members of the public carrying out life saving CPR which greatly increases the chances of survival.

Find out more about the legal status of those who attempt resuscitation from the Resuscitation Council UK 

AED (Automatic External Defibrillator)

An AED is a safe, portable electrical device that helps establish a regular heartbeat during a cardiac arrest by monitoring the person’s heartbeat and giving them an electric shock.


MYTH: You need to be a trained medical professional to use an AED.

FACT: Anyone can use an AED – it’s so simple to use even a child can do it. When turned on the AED will loudly instruct the user in clear, simple steps, exactly what to do.

This short video from St John Ambulance shows exactly how easy it is to use an AED:

Cardiac Arrest Guidelines During COVID-19

Dr Andy Lockey, Vice-President of Resuscitation Council UK, issues the latest guidance for what you should do if someone has an out of hospital cardiac arrest during the COVID-19 outbreak. Over 30,000 people in the UK have a cardiac arrest out of hospital each year – if someone has one near you, they need you. Learn what to do here.